Extreme urban heat is a powerful environmental stressor which poses a significant threat to human health and well-being. Exacerbated by the urban heat island phenomenon, heat events are expected to become more intense and frequent as climate change progresses, though we have limited understanding of the impact of such events on vulnerable populations at a neighborhood or census block group level. Focusing on the City of Portland, Oregon, this study aimed to determine which socio-demographic populations experience disproportionate exposure to extreme heat, as well as the level of access to refuge in the form of public cooling centers or residential central air conditioning. During a 2014 heat wave, temperature data were recorded using a vehicle-traverse collection method, then extrapolated to determine average temperature at the census block group level. Socio-demographic factors including income, race, education, age, and English speaking ability were tested using statistical assessments to identify significant relationships with heat exposure and access to refuge from extreme heat. Results indicate that groups with limited adaptive capacity, including those in poverty and non-white populations, are at higher risk for heat exposure, suggesting an emerging concern of environmental justice as it relates to climate change. The paper concludes by emphasizing the importance of cultural sensitivity and inclusion, in combination with effectively distributing cooling centers in areas where the greatest burden befalls vulnerable populations.
Keywords: environmental justice; heat exposure; resilience; urban heat; vulnerability.