Heat is expensive, is the not particularly surprising conclusion of a recent study in Phoenix, Arizona by the Nature Conservancy.
The Nature Conservancy is a nonprofit environmental organization which funds and maintains nature preserves and studies better ways to protect biodiversity. They don’t usually concern themselves much with cities, but Phoenix is something of a special case.
“As Phoenix continues to urbanize and its population expands, the benefits of adapting to extreme heat may only increase, as will the consequences of inaction,” read the Nature Conservancy’s report, released on Monday. “To implement the ambitious solution scenarios and realize the associated benefits, both the public and private sector will need to play an active role.”
Phoenix is the fifth largest city in the United States, with 1.6 million people. In recent years, temperatures from May to September have regularly reached 110 F, with occasional spikes as high as 118 F. In 2020, Phoenix recorded 323 heat-related deaths and tens of thousands of heat-related emergency room visits.
According to the report, extreme heat costs the taxpayers of metro Pheonix over $7.3 million a year in health care costs alone. Buckling and cracking roadways add another $100 million. Heat-damaged housing is a more direct cost, with homeowners having reported having to replace melting siding and heat-cracked roof tiles. Other losses are less easily quantifiable, such as decreased labor productivity.
The study also suggested several roads to cost-reduction. The two big ones are a city forestation project which would plant desert-friendly trees to shade a quarter of the city, and making ‘cool roofs’ standard. Cool roofs are roofs made of materials that reflect heat instead of absorbing it. According to the study, installing cool roofs in just a third of all structures in Phoenix could save as much as $280 million in avoidable losses.
Choosing to center heat-alleviating efforts in low-income parts of the city would have the most benefit, as poor and racially diverse parts of Phoenix suffer most under the rising temperatures.
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