October 20, 2023

Climate change is an ever-intensifying global challenge. It is responsible for a wide variety of threats that place human wellbeing at risk. This includes rising sea levels, intensifying hurricanes, receding ice sheets, and the growing prevalence of wildfires, among others. One of the most immediate and palpable effects for urban communities around the world are rapidly increasing temperatures.

This issue was highlighted during Harvard’s 2023 Worldwide Week, which showcased the university’s diverse international engagements, particularly in climate action. The week-long program featured academic and cultural events from various Harvard Schools, research centers, departments, and student organizations, exploring a range of global themes.

One event was the “Future of Cities: Extreme Heat” panel held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s Longfellow Hall. Panelists converged to discuss the implications of record-breaking global temperatures, emphasizing that cities around the world are seeing raising temperatures that are exceedingly harmful for their communities.

Urban environments across the world are grappling with escalating temperatures, highlighting the pressing threat of climate change.

Jane Gilbert, Miami-Dade County’s heat officer, pointed out that while regions like South Florida grapple with the effects of sea level rise and hurricanes, the resounding complaint from residents neighborhoods in recent years has been the unbearable heat.

Also speaking at the event was Dr. Satchit Balsari, co-director of CrisisReady, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, and an emergency medicine physician at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. Dr. Balsari’s research examines the threats of changing climates, with a particular emphasis on their impact on India’s labor landscape, especially among women in the informal economy. His studies in Gujarat have underscored the tangible effects of the global climate warming by 1 degree Celsius. Although this may appear as a slight increase, its repercussions are significant, leading to extended and more intense heatwaves, milder winters, increased nighttime temperatures, and heightened extreme weather occurrences.

Dr. Balsari emphasized that when discussing the impacts of climate change on individuals, micro-environments take precedence over global averages. He described the daily struggles of a street vendors in India, explaining that despite slight cooling at night, the heat is continually an overwhelming burden in their homes and workplaces. This highlights the real-life challenges of this issue.

The discussion projected a daunting picture of the future, with experts, including James Stock, Harvard’s vice provost for climate and sustainability, suggesting that the worst is yet to come. “We’re at 1.3, 1.2 (degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures) now; we’re going to blow through 1.5. We’re going to probably blow through 2,” he stated, emphasizing the rapid escalation of global temperatures.

The overarching sentiment shared by speakers was that more granular data, through a widespread use of sensors, is pivotal to crafting solutions. Gilbert supported this, highlighting the potential of wearable sensors that record the heat’s impact on individuals, vital for both public health officials and business leaders.

For a detailed summary on this event, you can visit the original post from the Harvard Gazette here.

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