Summer has become a survival test as heat gets more extreme

Outdoor workers, particularly those in the farming and construction industries, are just one of the groups for which summer is now a survival test.

Summer has become a survival test as heat gets more extreme


Estela Martinez wears a thin jacket and a light shirt to protect herself from the sun's scorching rays when she is out in the field. She is a farmworker who spends her days in Florida’s scorching heat.

She carries multiple water bottles and uses the slow moving tractors as shade.

She said that the heat is making her job more difficult. Since the beginning of June, more than 50 records have been broken in Florida. The heat is even more dangerous because the humidity makes it difficult to cool down.

Martinez told CNN that 'the heat has been extremely strong and I am sweating more easily'. I haven't felt this much heat in all my years of working in the field.

Martinez's daily routine is punctuated with a few sips and a lot of shade from the scorching sun.

Summer is a survival challenge for outdoor workers, especially those in farming and construction. The summer is also more dangerous for those who are homeless, people of color, families with low income, and the elderly.

According to the National Weather Service, heat kills more Americans each year than any other weather disaster. Climate change makes these extreme events more frequent and intense.

Texas and Arizona have posted heat alerts for over 30 consecutive days. This weekend, dozens of records will be broken from the Rio Grande up to the Pacific Northwest.

California's Central Valley is experiencing a heat wave of historic proportions. Temperatures are expected to reach 120 degrees in some places.

Phoenix is experiencing its hottest July on record. Every day, temperatures have risen to 110 degrees Fahrenheit and higher. The forecast looks to continue this trend well into the next week, potentially making it the longest period of time in Phoenix's history where temperatures exceed 110 degrees.

According to a Maricopa County Health Report, more than 400 people in metro Phoenix died last summer due to heat-related illnesses. The largest percentage of those deaths were people who are homeless. The majority of these deaths took place outdoors.

David Hondula is Phoenix's chief heat officer. He said that's the reason he's adopting a new approach to keep residents, especially those experiencing homelessness, cool, healthy, and safe as Phoenix continues to experience a heat wave with a potential record.

The city has renamed the cooling centers to'respite centres', to let people know that they can sleep, rest, and seek refuge from the heat.

Hondula, a CNN correspondent, said: 'There are a lot messages about checking up on family, friends and neighbors. But I don't believe we've heard the messages enough in previous years. And this activity should be repeated multiple times a day. Heat illnesses can develop very quickly.

Kristina Dalh, climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists said that people who work outside, like Martinez have a higher risk of getting sick or dying due to extreme heat.

Dahl told CNN that there are only three basic elements to protect the health of outdoor workers in extreme heat conditions: water, shade, and rest.

Dahl expressed concern that many farmworkers are paid based on how much they harvest or pick. Taking breaks in the heat to remain safe can result in lost earnings.

Dahl said: 'We must protect their wages to ensure they don't have to choose between their paycheck and their health.

Martinez called herself 'one lucky one', because her salary does not depend on the amount of harvest she makes.

"I can take a break whenever I want, but not every farmworker has this opportunity."

Pablo Ortiz is a senior water and climate scientist with UCS. He said that most farmworkers are from low-income families. They return home after spending many hours in the heat and are unable to afford the energy needed to turn on the air conditioner. This poses a new health threat as the nighttime heat increases.

Ortiz said that climate change also causes nighttime temperatures to rise. There are days when the heat does not cool down as much and people don't sleep if they do not have air conditioning. They need to start earlier again.

Vivek Shadas, professor of climate adaption and urban policy at Portland State University said that race is a significant indicator for who suffers most from extreme heat. A recent study showed that low-income communities and those with a high Black, Hispanic or Asian population experience more heat than wealthy and predominantly White neighborhoods.

These results confirm what Shandas found in his research: the redlining legacy -- the practice of racial discrimination in housing that was prevalent at the beginning of the 20th century -- still exists today.

Shandas said that cities must protect the most vulnerable populations by planting more trees and green space, which will not only provide shade, but also prevent temperatures from rising too high throughout the day. He said that cities should provide cooling units and air conditioning units on a sustainable basis.

Dahl said that while it is important to have green spaces, pools and cooling centers at homes, we should also ensure access to cooling by not allowing utilities to shut off electricity during heatwaves even if someone has fallen behind on their bill.

Shandas says that as global temperatures continue their downward spiral, solutions must be found quickly.

He said, 'It makes me worried about the direction of the world.' We're not adapting quickly enough.