Extreme Heat’s Rising Toll on Public Health

News outlets seeking expertise on the impact of extreme heat have called on V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Turner spoke to The New York Times about emergency rooms nationwide struggling to treat life-threatening heat-related illnesses. “It’s difficult for us to know how many people are impacted by extreme heat when we look at emergency room data,” Turner said. Around 2,300 people were reported to have died from heat-related illnesses in the United States in 2023 — triple the annual average between 2004 and 2018 — but that number may be an undercount, since many hospitals use software that does not include codes for heat-related conditions. Turner also spoke with Spectrum News about a California ballot measure that would allow the state to borrow $10 billion to address climate change. “The investment today is going to save us in the future because we will only see worse, more intense, longer heat waves, longer heat seasons impacting more areas of the state,” Turner said. 


On the ‘Pernicious and Hidden’ Toll of Chronic Heat

V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), spoke to several media outlets about the dangers of rising temperatures as well as cross-sector efforts to make communities more resilient to extreme heat. In a Guardian piece about this summer’s brutal heat wave in the United States, Turner noted that “chronic heat exposure can affect people in really pernicious and hidden ways.” On Spectrum News 1, she reminded viewers that heat not only contributes to more deaths than all other weather-related disasters, it also touches every aspect of daily life, from prenatal health, children’s learning, losses in labor and stresses on the medical system. Turner also spoke with the Los Angeles Times and the podcast America Adapts about the work that will be done by the new federally funded Center of Excellence for Heat Resilient Communities, to be housed at LCI. The center will be an “all-hands-on-deck approach to learn from existing efforts to prevent the worst consequences of extreme heat.”


UCLA to Lead New Center of Excellence for Heat Resilient Communities The Luskin Center for Innovation, in collaboration with 50 partners, receives a first-of-its-kind federal grant to help guard against climate danger

By Mara Elana Burstein

We’re not prepared for rising temperatures. Heat poses a growing and inequitable threat to the health, economies and security of communities everywhere, yet heat governance remains underdeveloped, especially in comparison to other climate hazards.

The UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) wants to change that. Under the leadership of its associate director, V. Kelly Turner, LCI has been awarded a $2.25 million grant to establish a Center of Excellence for Heat Resilient Communities. Funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS), the Center of Excellence will engage and support communities in determining the best strategies for local heat mitigation and management.

“Some communities have begun to plan for heat, but most lack the capacity or resources to engage in comprehensive planning,” said Turner, who leads LCI’s heat equity research and along with colleagues has long called for a coordinated national approach to heat resilience. “With this grant, we can help the federal government establish a robust, actionable and durable plan to support those efforts.”  

Turner’s co-leads for this project are Sara Meerow at Arizona State University and Ladd Keith at the University of Arizona. With more than 50 other partners committed, the grant will enable the creation of an international network of heat scholars and practitioners. One outcome will be a framework to identify and evaluate policies, protocols and lessons for heat resilience that can be applied in the U.S. and internationally. 

Thirty communities and tribal entities will be selected for direct technical assistance and comprehensive educational support during the three-year grant period. By centering equity in its approach, the Center for Excellence will systematically work with and fund historically excluded communities and help meet the Biden Administration’s goals under Justice40. This will broaden the impact and benefits of engagement, heat data and information, and other approaches, like benefit-cost analysis, to inform effective and equitable planning for heat resilience. 

The ultimate goal is to protect public health and well-being from acute and chronic heat dangers through equity-centered, data-informed, whole-of-government approaches to mitigate and manage heat in diverse communities and heat-exposure settings.

Funding for the Center of Excellence for Heat Resilient Communities is provided through the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 and is part of President Biden’s Investing in America agenda. This is one of two new National Integrated Heat Health Information System centers of excellence. The complementary Center for Collaborative Heat Monitoring, to be led by the Museum of Life and Science in Durham, N.C., will assist community-serving organizations in conducting local climate and health studies.

“The impacts of extreme heat caused by climate change are an increasing threat to our health, ecosystems and economy,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo. “Thanks to President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda, this investment will support new NIHHIS Centers of Excellence to help protect historically excluded communities from the dangers of extreme heat, boost climate resilience and increase awareness on best practices to tackle the climate crisis.”

To learn more about how LCI research informs heat equity solutions to improve human well-being and quality of life where we live, work, learn and play, see LCI’s heat equity webpage.

Turner on Shade Equity Master Plan for Rural California Desert Region

An Associated Press article on efforts to increase shade equity in a rural desert community in Riverside County cited V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), whose work focuses on cities adapting to hotter conditions. The master plan inaugurated in the Eastern Coachella Valley, where summer temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees, is among other efforts in the United States to increase climate resilience in Latino and other marginalized communities disproportionately exposed to extreme heat. The project, a collaboration of partners including LCI, is funded by a grant from the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research in California. “What was sort of being left off the table was how heat is affecting rural communities,” said Turner, associate professor of urban planning and geography at UCLA. Community members, part of a collaborative workshop with Luskin urban planning students on social justice issues, are also supporting the project.


Preparing Schools for a Warming World

Education Week put a spotlight on a UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI) policy forum focused on protecting schools and students from extreme heat. “For some students, school might be the only time where they get a chance to cool off during the day,” said V. Kelly Turner, associate director of LCI, during the conversation with partners from the nonprofits Ten Strands and UndauntedK12. Schools must act now to prepare for a warming world, the panelists stressed. They laid out steps school districts can take to prepare for hotter days, including keeping classrooms under 80 degrees Fahrenheit; adding shade to schoolyards; developing emergency heat plans; and tapping into federal funding to upgrade energy systems. LCI also produced a resource kit offering further strategies for making schools more heat-resilient.


Turner on Schools’ Potential to Provide an Oasis From Heat

An LAist article on efforts to increase green spaces on Los Angeles school campuses to provide cool relief in a warming world cited V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. By 2050, parts of L.A. that are prone to extreme heat could see at least 30 additional days with temperatures above 90 degrees. Turner said it’s important to think about schools as community resources, especially for kids who come from historically disinvested and disadvantaged communities. “If kids live in a home without air conditioning or a cool place to go on hot days, then come to school, which also lacks cooling inside and shade outside, their core body temperatures are never getting down to safe levels,” said Turner, an associate professor of urban planning. “That’s going to cause them to have difficulty concentrating … and it’s going to be very, very hard for a child to learn in that context.”


Turner on Cities’ Strategies for Staying Cool

V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, spoke to Spectrum News about the importance of shade in providing relief from rising temperatures. “Shade is the most effective way we have to keep people cool outside,” said Turner, an associate professor of urban planning. “All else equal, someone standing in shade can be 20 to 40 degrees Celsius cooler than somebody standing in the full sun. And so we need to think of ways that include trees and non-tree shade structures to keep people cool.” Turner also spoke to CalMatters about artificial turf as a replacement for lawns, noting that the synthetic material can trap heat, at times making it hotter than asphalt. And she spoke to Grist about one downside of the use of cool-pavement technology: When the sun is at its highest, heat reflected off its surface can actually be absorbed by the people and structures nearby.


On Palm Trees and Climate Resiliency

A Los Angeles Times article on cities reconsidering the value of Southern California’s iconic palm trees checked in with V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation. Planting trees is a key element of many climate resiliency plans, but the towering palms don’t provide much shade or sequester carbon well. “A pole on the side of the street isn’t providing much shade. And a palm tree is kind of similar,” said Turner, whose work focuses on how cities adapt to hotter conditions. The article pointed to Center for Innovation research showing that shade can reduce heat stress in the human body from 25% to 30% throughout the day. Turner also spoke to Resources Radio about how heat impacts U.S. schools. The conversation touched on architectural and landscape design choices that can mitigate hot temperatures, funding sources for improving infrastructure and issues of equity in allocating such resources to schools. 


On the Chronic, Day-to-Day Toll of Rising Temperatures

V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, joined the podcast America Adapts for an expansive conversation on the effects of rising temperatures on public health. While record-setting heat has received widespread media coverage over the summer, Turner stressed that governments must develop not just climate emergency plans, but long-term resiliency strategies that protect people from the chronic day-to-day experience of elevated temperatures. “We talk a lot about extreme heat and we talk a lot about mortality and we talk about heat sickness, but what we don’t really talk about is the myriad ways that heat affects well-being in our daily lives. It affects your cognitive abilities, your emotional state. You’re more likely to be angry, unable to concentrate,” Turner said. “I think these are ways that the lived experience for many Americans is going to be degraded because they don’t have access to cool communities or cool infrastructure.”


Managing Extreme Heat as a New School Year Begins

NBC News spoke to V. Kelly Turner, associate director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation (LCI), about the impact of soaring temperatures on students as the new school year begins. “Children’s bodies are not the same as adults. They are more vulnerable to extreme heat,” Turner said. “If kids don’t feel well or are angry or can’t concentrate, then of course they won’t test well.” She added, “Extreme heat is our new reality. Hot seasons will be longer and more intense, and for many children, school is the only place with air conditioning.” In a separate interview with the Los Angeles affiliate NBC4, Turner said that California lacks a statewide reporting system to track how K-12 schools experience heat, including which campuses have functioning cooling systems. The recent LCI policy brief Protecting Californians With Heat-Resilient Schools offers guidance on how to prioritize heat management on campuses, including through the establishment of a statewide indoor temperature limit.