Dimensions of Thermal Inequity: Neighborhood Social Demographics and Urban Heat in the Southwestern U.S

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 22;18(3):941. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18030941.


Exposure to heat is a growing public health concern as climate change accelerates worldwide. Different socioeconomic and racial groups often face unequal exposure to heat as well as increased heat-related sickness, mortality, and energy costs. We provide new insight into thermal inequities by analyzing 20 Southwestern U.S. metropolitan regions at the census block group scale for three temperature scenarios (average summer heat, extreme summer heat, and average summer nighttime heat). We first compared average temperatures for top and bottom decile block groups according to demographic variables. Then we used spatial regression models to investigate the extent to which exposure to heat (measured by land surface temperature) varies according to income and race. Large thermal inequities exist within all the regions studied. On average, the poorest 10% of neighborhoods in an urban region were 2.2 °C (4 °F) hotter than the wealthiest 10% on both extreme heat days and average summer days. The difference was as high as 3.3-3.7 °C (6-7 °F) in California metro areas such as Palm Springs and the Inland Empire. A similar pattern held for Latinx neighborhoods. Temperature disparities at night were much smaller (usually ~1 °F). Disparities for Black neighborhoods were also lower, perhaps because Black populations are small in most of these cities. California urban regions show stronger thermal disparities than those in other Southwestern states, perhaps because inexpensive water has led to more extensive vegetation in affluent neighborhoods. Our findings provide new details about urban thermal inequities and reinforce the need for programs to reduce the disproportionate heat experienced by disadvantaged communities.

Keywords: climate adaptation; climate justice; environmental justice; thermal inequity; urban heat island; urban heating.

MeSH terms

  • Cities
  • Climate Change
  • Hot Temperature*
  • Residence Characteristics*
  • Temperature