“When we started naming heat waves, social change happened”

With global energy demand for cooling expected to triple by 2050, and with more than 1.2 billion people at high-risk of heat-related threats to their lives and welfare, the need to influence behaviour and consumption has become a high priority. For Kurt Shickman, this urgency first became apparent to him in his earlier work, focusing on solar reflective roofs in the commercial sector.

Degrees of impact

He explains, “This work took me into communities that don’t have air conditioning; communities that in fact will never have air conditioning, either because they’re physically disconnected from the technology or because it’s just not economically feasible to implement. It’s here where you see how critical even a few degrees difference in temperature can be for people’s livelihoods, for their ability to survive or to achieve the education that they want. You can see the breadth of impacts that a few degrees of temperature inside a house can make. That really woke me up to the necessity to focus on this issue, not just from an energy perspective, or from a mitigation perspective, but from a human perspective. That was about twelve years ago, and I’ve been working in this space since then.”

Naming heatwaves

The Extreme Heat Initiatives at Arsht-Rock focus on actionable changes they can make to tackle the cooling challenge in an overheating world. This includes educating decision-makers, co-developing heat-risk reduction policies, creating affordable capital and risk-transfer products, and supporting on-the-ground implementation.

For Shickman, this actionable change can be as simple as warning people about what the challenge of heat really means and then helping them provide real solutions. He elaborates, “We have a project that ties weather conditions in local areas to the local human health outcome. This allows us to not just talk about hot days or humid days, but really expand into what these hot and humid days mean for people in that local context. It means that we can actually help people understand not only that a high-risk hot day is coming, but also specifically what to do, and create appropriate urgency around the actions to mitigate the risks. This was a theoretical idea only two years ago but now we have been able to pilot it in six cities around the world.”

“We had the first named heatwave in the world in July of last year. We were operating in Seville in Spain at this time, during what was a sustained and substantial period of high danger. What we found in our ongoing analysis and surveys within Andalucía and other similar regions was that people recognised and remembered the heatwave name and that it actually changed their behaviour. These participants took specific actions to keep themselves safer. Even better, they took on social behavioural actions; calling their relatives, checking in on neighbours, as well as with older people in the neighbourhood to help keep them safe. This is something where we can see statistically significant differences in people’s behaviours, and that’s really what we’re trying to do.”

Impact of Clean Cooling Collaborative

The cooling challenge is a complex one, one that Shickman believes requires extensive collaboration so as to succeed in breaking the cycle of increasing temperatures and the corresponding demand for cooling. He explains, “When you focus on the issue of heat, what you find very quickly is that there are thousands of different ways to approach this challenge. And that there’s no such thing as a heat expert. There are people that focus on it from an engineering side, or from an architecture perspective, from the communities’ lived experience, or from a health side. To have the ability to come together in a collective like the Clean Cooling Collaborative and share each other’s experiences and expertise benefits everybody in the group. I learn from what I’m hearing here and can apply that to my work on passive cooling and adaptation. I hope that the same is true for them.”

“For example the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is working on fisheries’ cold chain work. That couldn’t be further removed from what I’m doing personally. But when you really dig into the project, you start to realise, ‘Oh well, there’s some passive cooling aspects to this and I have some knowledge there, we can share that information.’ Or ‘ How was this being accepted in the community? You can tell me about that.’ So even when there isn’t a clear connection initially, you tend to find it very quickly. These kinds of meetings are extraordinarily valuable in growing everyone’s capacity to do this work and to also grow our spirit to do this work. I think IKEA Foundation’s role in this is absolutely essential.”

About
Kurt Shickman is the Director of Extreme Heat Initiatives at the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock).
Arsht-Rock is a non-profit with a mission to reach a billion people with resilient solutions by 2030. Arsht-Rock focuses primarily on delivering heat resilience as the mode of resilient solutions and is part of the Clean Cooling Collaborative, supported by the IKEA Foundation.

Read also: Cities are categorizing and naming heat waves—yours should, too.  – Arsht-Rock (onebillionresilient.org)

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