By Gabriel Arizon
San Fernando Valley Sun/el Sol
In an effort to increase awareness of climate change among local residents, representatives from Climate Resolve held a presentation about the effects of rising heat in the San Fernando Valley and how to help mitigate it.
Gabriel Varela and Lia Cohen of Climate Resolve — an organization that works with communities most affected by climate change — spoke to teenagers through the Sylmar branch of the Los Angeles Public Library on how climate change is affecting the area they live in.
“It’s important for teenagers to be part of the discussion,” Varela said. “This is a community health issue, and so it’s important for youth to understand.
“We want to make sure that we can provide information on the efforts that are happening around them and hopefully just give them resources that they can then look into, and ideally also bring ‘green’ back home.”
One of the most important resources is trees, the speakers said. Trees provide all sorts of benefits for people and the environment, from providing shade and preventing overheating to improving local air quality — and there’s a way for residents to get them for free.
The Free Tree Program, funded by the City of LA, provides its community members the opportunity to receive up to seven free trees for their yard from a selection of over 30 different water-efficient species. Residents are also able to request trees for the street outside their homes or in their neighborhoods.
Additionally, there is the Tree Ambassador Program, which offers information on how to care for and maintain trees.
“I would say [the Free Tree Program] is probably one of the more important programs just because there’s such big differences between communities that don’t have access to green spaces and parks and other communities that actually do,” Varela said.
Other tools residents can look into include:
— the Air Conditioning Optimization Program, a service that includes filter change, outdoor coil cleaning and system diagnostic test;
— the Refrigerator Exchange Program that provides energy-efficient refrigerators for LADWP customers, and;
— Cool Roof Ordinance, in which every new and refurbished roof in LA must be built using materials that are more efficient in reflecting the sun’s energy.
There are things residents can do in their day-to-day life that can reduce their carbon footprint, such as taking public transportation or moving towards electric vehicles. In terms of staying cool during extremely hot days, it was recommended that people visit cooling centers like recreation centers and swimming pools, or purchase blackout curtains to cool homes.
Cohen also put forth the idea of holding large companies and organizations accountable for contributing to climate change, which is much greater than what individuals contribute.
“We, as an organization, are trying to give solutions and give power and knowledge to the people that are most impacted by climate change while pushing for accountability by people who are most responsible for climate change,” Cohen said.
LA has been experiencing an increase of extreme heat days, which exacerbates other factors such as the urban heat island effect — the phenomenon that occurs when cities replace natural land cover with dense concentrations of buildings, pavement and other material that absorb and retain heat.
This results in an increase of energy costs for indoor spaces to stay cool, air pollution levels and heat-related illness.
Approximately 21 percent of LA County is covered by tree canopies, 6 percent lower than the national average. Additionally, most of these green spaces are in wealthy neighborhoods, leaving poorer areas without safety measures from extreme heat.
The result is that LA temperatures are 19 degrees hotter in urban areas — the highest recorded urban heat island effect in the state.
Heat is the number one disaster-related cause of death and illness in the US. Official California estimates state 599 deaths were attributed to heat exposure between 2010 and 2019; however, an analysis by the Los Angeles Times claims that the real toll is likely six times higher.
“I say this not to scare you, but just to increase awareness,” Cohen explained, “because [heat exposure] is often more dangerous than things like floods, hurricanes, wildfires and earthquakes. But it usually doesn’t get the attention that it deserves.”
In addition to spreading awareness and information, Varela and Cohen spoke on the idea of social cohesion — bringing the community together and checking on people who may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses — and the concept of resilience hubs.
The latter is where they take established community facilities, for instance the arts conservatory in Boyle Heights, and use it as a place for power, cooling and backup energy in case of emergencies or extreme heat events.
“There’s all kinds of different strategies, but a lot of it is just awareness because when people don’t see the effects of extreme heat, it’s actually more dangerous for human health than pretty much all other kind of climate-induced disasters,” Cohen said.
“There’s usually more fatalities from it. So it’s just kind of like this silent threat that people are starting to be more aware of and we hope that [spreading awareness] will help people.”
For more information on the Free Tree Program and the Tree Ambassador Program, visit https://www.cityplants.org/. To find energy efficient appliances for LADWP customers, go to https://marketplace.ladwp.com/.