It's Getting (Dangerously) Hot in Herre On this week's episode we talk about why certain communities are more vulnerable to catastrophic weather events like hurricanes and heat waves. Saying "mother nature doesn't discriminate," ignores the fact that discrimination exacerbates her wrath.
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It's Getting (Dangerously) Hot in Herre

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It's Getting (Dangerously) Hot in Herre

It's Getting (Dangerously) Hot in Herre

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SHEREEN MARISOL MERAJI, HOST:

Thanks for listening to CODE SWITCH. More than 40 million Americans speak Spanish, and millions more are learning. For all of you, I'd like to recommend NPR's Radio Abulante. It's the podcast to hear incredible stories from all over Latin America and across the U.S. Hosted by novelist Daniel Alarcon, Radio Abulante covers the region like no one else, reporting and storytelling en espanol. Radio Abulante is on NPR One or wherever you listen to your podcasts. "Black, White, Rich, Poor: Storm Harvey Didn't Discriminate" - that was an Associated Press headline a week after Harvey made landfall in Texas.

GENE DEMBY, HOST:

We'll probably see similar headlines in the coming days replacing Harvey with Irma. We've heard this cliche a million times, Shereen - Mother Nature doesn't discriminate.

MERAJI: But Gene, we know it's not that simple.

DEMBY: Nope.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERAJI: You're listening to CODE SWITCH. And this week, we're talking about the weather. Climate change is giving us bigger storms, more fires, floods and longer, more intense heat waves. NPR has been closely following Harvey and Irma this month, and we've reported on how warmer oceans are fueling bigger, more devastating hurricanes.

DEMBY: And of course, stronger hurricanes aren't the only way that climate change impacts the way we live. According to the EPA, most of the country is getting warmer on average, but the Southwest has warmed more dramatically over the last century than almost anywhere else.

MERAJI: August and September are, on average, the hottest months here in Southern California. And this year, Gene, heat records were falling all across the Golden State like dominoes.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS MONTAGE)

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #1: SFO reached 104 degrees; Salinas airport, 105 - all-time record highs.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #2: Also, those temperatures tonight - not really bring much relief, not much of a...

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER #3: It feels like your skin is sizzling like bacon in a skillet. I mean, that is just my thoughts at this hour.

MERAJI: It was unbearably hot. And the Angelenos who are disproportionately feeling that intense heat - they live in urban areas with substandard housing, fewer trees. They're surrounded by freeways.

DEMBY: I know where you're going with this.

MERAJI: Yes, you do. They're, a majority, black and brown.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: #HousingSegregationInEverything.

MERAJI: Yes, the world's longest hashtag.

DEMBY: Yes. It's so cumbersome, but it's true. It's applicable to so many things, like these stories.

MERAJI: Right. Mother Nature may not discriminate, but people do.

DEMBY: Right, of course.

MERAJI: And some of America's most vulnerable people are dealing with the most severe effects of climate change. And I just got to point out real quick that AP headline that we read at the top, the article did point that out later in the story.

DEMBY: So in this episode, we've got two different stories of two different Latino communities that are ill-equipped to handle all this extreme weather. We're going to go to Houston, where more than half a million people, one in every 10 Houstonians, is an immigrant without legal status. And this story is a great example of how being a, quote, "American" really matters when the winds roll in and the storm surges rise.

MERAJI: And then we'll take you to Southern California, to the hottest part of the city of Los Angeles. And we're not talking trendy. We're talking sweltering.

DEMBY: All that after the break. But first, our CODE SWITCH teammate Adrian Florido is here with us. What's good, man?

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, guys.

MERAJI: Adrian, you were in Houston covering the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. And you rode along with advocates who were checking on undocumented immigrants after the storm.

FLORIDO: Yeah. A few days after Harvey passed through Houston, I tagged along with some staff and volunteers from a group called FIEL, which works with undocumented students and families, mostly Latinos. And one of the guys in the car was Alain Cisneros, a FIEL organizer. And he said that the day before, they'd visited a heavily damaged immigrant neighborhood to see what kind of help people needed. And Cisneros broadcast that visit on Facebook Live.

ALAIN CISNEROS: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: And he said when people saw that on Facebook, requests for help started pouring in from undocumented folks in neighborhoods across the city. So one of those neighborhoods, again a mostly Latino neighborhood, is where we were headed.

(Speaking Spanish).

CISNEROS: OK. (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: We're pulling into this apartment complex here. You can see the wider damage in the lower end of all of these buildings - sideboards pulled up, destroyed blinds, huge piles of destroyed furniture - mattresses, box springs, clothes.

CISNEROS: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

CISNEROS: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: The first stop was the home of a woman with young children. She's not in the country legally, so she preferred not to give her name.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "The water came up to here," she said, showing us the watermark on the walls in her living room.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We had to throw everything away," she said, "everything, everything."

As we stood at her front door, a white pickup truck pulled up out front. The bed of the truck was full of plastic bags of food.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED BOY: Si.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Si.

FLORIDO: And the driver asked if anyone needed food or diapers, so the woman sent her son to grab some. It's how many of the families in this apartment complex had been getting by in the days after the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "If there are two things we need," this woman told us, "it's food and it's help with our cars because nearly every car in this apartment complex has been destroyed."

(SOUNDBITE OF ENGINE STARTING)

FLORIDO: In the parking lot that rings the apartment complex, men with sweat-drenched brows were leaning over the hoods of flooded-out cars, trying to get them to start.

(Speaking Spanish).

WILFREDO SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

TEODORO CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Their efforts were mostly futile.

(Speaking Spanish).

CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "They're all destroyed," Teodoro Chavez (ph) and Wilfredo Sanchez (ph) told me. "And we only have liability insurance, so it's a total loss."

During and after the storm, politicians, public officials and some journalists talked a lot about how Hurricane Harvey had damaged and destroyed people's property without regard to race or class. Mother Nature did not discriminate, they said. While that's true, some families, like the undocumented ones in this complex, will have a much harder time getting back on their feet for a lot of reasons. Take Rosa Sosa (ph), another resident in this complex. She lives in a first-floor unit with her husband, her 24-year-old daughter and her baby grandson. When the water rose, they fled to a vacant apartment upstairs. When it receded, they returned to find all of their belongings destroyed.

ROSA SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "The most important thing were the beds," Sosa said.

(Speaking Spanish).

I ask if they'll buy more.

ROSA SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: We could, she says, but who knows when? The family had been sleeping on the floor.

ROXANA SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Her daughter, Roxana, said they were out of money because they hadn't worked since the storm.

ROSA SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We haven't even bought food," her mother said, "because we've got to pay the rent."

Because they're undocumented, none of the adults in the Sosa family qualify for FEMA assistance. This is another reason advocates say undocumented immigrants are fairing especially poorly after the storm. Many thousands of immigrants left with nothing simply can't get the federal help that Americans and legal residents do. The one exception in the Sosa family is Roxana's baby, who was born in the U.S. His mom can register for help in his name. Even so, when I spoke to her, she hadn't done it.

ROSA SOSA: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We're afraid" her mother, Rosa, said. "And that's why we stay like this. It's why, rather than declare our losses, we just stay quiet."

Advocates say this fear of being deported is actually keeping a lot of undocumented Texas families from seeking help. They were already uneasy because of the strict immigration enforcement bill that was set to take effect in Texas until a federal judge temporarily blocked it. After the flood, Ora Espinosa (ph), another organizer with FIEL, spoke to one woman whose story she said was common. She said she refused to go to a Red Cross shelter despite extensive damage to a home.

ORA ESPINOSA: One of the roof is falling on her. But she put sheets so she can at least have cover until she finds a way to fix her problem.

FLORIDO: And she refuses to leave?

ESPINOSA: Yes because she's afraid that immigration is down there or that if they get her information, eventually they're going to come and look for her.

FLORIDO: During and after the storm, Houston mayor Sylvester Turner said repeatedly that there would be no immigration enforcement shelters. The Department of Homeland Security said that, too. But one evening in Houston, I myself saw several immigration officials, including Customs and Border Protection and Border Patrol agents, standing in front of the main Red Cross shelter downtown. When I called Judson Murdock, the Customs and Border Protection official leading the Harvey response, he told me they were only there to help.

JUDSON MURDOCK: We're not there to do immigration enforcement. We're here to make sure that people can get to safe haven.

FLORIDO: Typically, deportations far from the border are carried out by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, agents. But Murdock said he understood the concern that the mere presence of CBP and Border Patrol agents might keep some immigrants from getting help. Because of that, he told me, he had pulled all of his agents from the areas around Red Cross shelters.

MURDOCK: We don't want to be in a situation where we are intimidating people or perceived to be intimidating people to get help where they may need it.

FLORIDO: Still, many immigrants refused to take the risk. So much of the work of helping unauthorized immigrants in Houston is falling to private groups, like FIEL and others.

UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: Over the weekend, a group of immigrant volunteers from Austin drove a big trailer loaded with supplies into a strip mall parking lot. People started streaming in from the surrounding immigrant neighborhoods. Carlos Ramos (ph) got in line to try to get some diapers for his son he was carrying in his arms. He said that during the flooding, he and others from his apartment complex left to look for food and help. But as they waded through the water, they spotted some rescuers with the letters CBP emblazoned on their uniforms, Customs and Border Protection.

CARLOS RAMOS: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "We all said, what are they doing here?" Ramos told me. "And we all ran back home. We knew they were here to help," he said. "But there's that fear, you know, of not really knowing if they're going to take you away."

Like many people I spoke with, Ramos said he didn't know how he would recover from Harvey. He lost literally everything he owns in the storm. And he's got no FEMA, no insurance, no more money. He does know that undocumented immigrants will be a critical part of the labor force in Houston's rebuilding effort, like they were after Hurricane Katrina.

RAMOS: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: "I'm hoping there will be a lot of work for us soon," he said, "so that my family can start to rebuild."

DEMBY: That was Adrian Florido reporting from Houston.

Coming up, climate change isn't just making hurricanes more dangerous. There are also longer, deadlier heat waves in our big cities that were not built to withstand them. We go to the hottest part of the city of Los Angeles after the break.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

DEMBY: Hey, y'all. Start your day tomorrow with Up First, the morning news podcast from NPR. Apple Podcasts reviewer Eve Bethel (ph) calls it concise and comprehensive. I listen to Up First every morning on my walk to work. It gives me a great summary of the top news stories during the day and the upcoming week. Wake up with Up First tomorrow morning on the NPR One app and wherever you listen the podcasts.

MERAJI: And we're back with that heat.

DEMBY: (Laughter) Literally in this case. So according to a state agency in California, where Shereen is, these rising temperatures are expected to have serious consequences there, like heat-related deaths and illnesses, decreased agricultural production, greater demands on California's electricity supply. And the wild thing about this report to me, Shereen, is that it says that while we know that people die because of the heat, we really don't know what the other health consequences are for all the people who are exposed to this unbelievably hot weather. Right?

MERAJI: Not to mention how it affects their basic day-to-day lives - basic things like sleeping and studying and working, if there's no AC at their work. And, you know, back to those dire consequences, we do know that more people die from extreme heat, on average, than floods and fires, although we do like to report more on floods and fires because they're more dramatic.

DEMBY: So you went out with an environmental reporter named Molly Peterson...

MERAJI: I did.

DEMBY: ...To find out how one community is dealing with longer and hotter heat waves in Southern California. Molly has been reporting on climate change and race for a long time. But over the last year, she's been tracking its effects on certain LA communities.

MERAJI: Molly, you brought me to this alleyway-sized park. It actually used to be an alley. And to set the scene for people, we are tucked between a lavanderia, which is a laundromat, and a strip mall which has a quinceneara party supply store in it. In front of us is busy, busy Van Nuys Boulevard, where there's tons of trucks that go up and down. And behind us are the public housing projects.

Why are we here?

MOLLY PETERSON, BYLINE: Well, this is the heart of Pacoima. This is the northeast San Fernando Valley. This is also the hottest part in the city of Los Angeles.

MERAJI: I feel it. It's hot. It's hazy. There are a lot of concrete businesses and not a lot of trees.

PETERSON: And there are freeways around three sides of it, four freeways around us.

MERAJI: But there's another reason why we're here. This is CODE SWITCH.

PETERSON: Right. We're also here because this neighborhood is 96 percent Latino. And that's interesting because, overall, the San Fernando Valley has been historically white except this neighborhood. Let me give you some history why that is.

MERAJI: Yeah.

PETERSON: After World War II, we encouraged people of color not to live in the Western, cooler parts of the valley. There was redlining. There were racial covenants. There were all these discouragements for black families - young, up and coming, black middle-class families. At the same time, there were housing developers who marketed to African-Americans here in this neighborhood, the Joe Louis Homes.

MERAJI: Joe Louis, the black boxer.

PETERSON: For $200 down payment, you could get a little piece of the American suburban dream after the war, a house with a garage and a driveway and a little patch of grass.

MERAJI: Right in the middle of a very dry, hot patch of the San Fernando Valley. But now it is 96 percent Latino. What changed? What happened?

PETERSON: In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates declared war on crack, which meant that the LAPD was busting into a lot of homes with these battering rams and battering ram trucks. People wanted out. They wanted out because it was dangerous, you know...

MERAJI: Because of the crack epidemic.

PETERSON: ...Because of crack. But also, people felt like they were under siege from the cops. This wasn't that post-World War II suburban dream anymore. And then at the same time, from the 1970s to the 1990s, there was this massive influx of Latino immigrants to Los Angeles. Latinos doubled in population in Los Angeles County during that period. And this is the place they came because it was affordable.

MERAJI: And now it's super, super densely populated because we're having a housing crisis in LA.

PETERSON: Rents are skyrocketing, even here in Pacoima. What that means in Los Angeles is a lot of renters are families, not just single people. So even in single-family homes, they are subdivided. And multiple families might live in these homes. We're densifying without a plan in Los Angeles. And what that looks like in the summertime, when it's hot, is a bunch of people gather around a big-ass air conditioner or an enormous fan with their hands in front of them like the opposite of warming themselves in front of a fire.

MERAJI: (Laughter) The exact opposite.

PETERSON: Yeah.

MERAJI: So is it safe to say that where we are, this community, that it was created because of housing segregation?

PETERSON: You're asking 'cause Gene's not here to ask?

MERAJI: (Laughter) This is for Gene - housing segregation in everything.

PETERSON: Yes, this neighborhood is next to heavy industry. It's next to manufacturing.

MERAJI: Tons of freeways, which we already established.

PETERSON: There's an airport called Whiteman Airport that I've heard people call White Man Airport.

MERAJI: (Laughter).

PETERSON: There are fewer trees in this neighborhood, and, you know, we're surrounded by concrete.

MERAJI: So I'm going to ask the obvious question - because I feel like it's obvious - but what does all this have to do with climate change?

PETERSON: That housing stock that we were talking about? It's older now. It's from a time before we really knew how to care about energy efficiency in homes - it's a - before we actually required it. On top of that - and I heard this from Pacoima Beautiful. They're a community and environmental group here in this part of town. Thirty percent of people who live in this neighborhood live in illegal or converted housing.

MERAJI: What does that mean?

PETERSON: It means, like, they converted a house to fit more people in it. Or a structure, like a shed, is something that people live in now. You can see electric cords running out back there. That housing isn't probably insulated. It hasn't been inspected. It's probably illegal. And that means that people are more vulnerable to this heat we've been talking about. And guess what, Shereen.

MERAJI: It's getting hotter.

PETERSON: According to a UCLA climate scientist who downscaled some global climate models - what that means is he figured out how to predict how hot it's going to be here, specifically in this neighborhood. We're talking about, in the San Fernando Valley, going from around 50 extreme heat days now to something closer to a hundred by the year 2050.

MERAJI: So if I'm hearing this right, about a third of the year, right where we are, it's going to be nearly a hundred degrees or more.

PETERSON: Yeah. So I got curious about that. I wanted to know how hot it was getting in people's lives, where they live and in their homes.

MERAJI: And you did that by being kind of a MacGyver. You built these heat sensors. You soldered them, and you put them up in people's homes around here. Actually, I can see into the window of a family where you put up a heat sensor in their house.

PETERSON: I met Marcela Herrera right here in this Paco park about a year ago. She lives in the second-floor apartment with her husband and five kids.

Hey.

MARCELA HERRERA: Hi.

PETERSON: Good to see you.

HERRERA: Thank you.

PETERSON: So Marcela introduced me to her son - he's 17 - Edwin Diaz. They hung out with me on and off over the last year. And I put one of my sensors up in Edwin's bedroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETERSON: OK. I'm in Edwin Diaz's room. I've got some double-sided tape. I am going to put a sensor above the door.

Marcela told me that she put the AC window unit where the young kids sleep because they're more vulnerable. She has a kid who's basically a toddler, and then Edwin's one of her older kids. Edwin's room gets, like, super, super, super hot.

EDWIN DIAZ: You're tired from school or, like, let's say, being outside, and it's hot. And then you come home, and it's even hotter. There's really nothing you can do to cool down sometimes. And I always get, like, severe migraines and headaches. And my nose starts bleeding out of nowhere.

PETERSON: And Marcela's really worried about that. And she's worried about all of her kids, so she does everything she can to keep them cool. She mops the floors because the rising moisture cools them down. She hands out icy bottles of water from the freezer. She bathes her kids a lot. She drives them around in the car because it has AC. I've talked to maybe a hundred people in the last year. And a surprising number of them said, yeah, I like to put my kids in the car when it gets hot because the AC doesn't work in our house, but I know it works in the car.

MERAJI: I'd like to get back to Edwin. How hot was his room getting. What was that sensor telling you?

PETERSON: It would get up to - 102 degrees was the highest it got in there. And the sensor in his room also showed that it wasn't cooling down much at night. It'd be 20 to 25 degrees warmer than it was outside. I talked to David Eisenman about this. He directs the Center for Public Health and Disasters at UCLA.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DAVID EISENMAN: Now, it used to be that people could go out at night onto the street or sleep on a sleeping porch at night in Southern California, and the cooling temperature of the desert that we live in naturally cooled the body down. People are doing that less often. Our streets feel less safe. People have less access to the outdoors. So we need something in our home, like an air conditioner.

PETERSON: Dr. Eisenman told me, when it's hot, your body is working overtime to cool itself down. If your environment is really hot, it can't do that. You can get heat exhaustion. You could get heat stroke. You can pass out. You can even die. A climatologist from the University of Miami I talked to, Larry Kalkstein, who works with Dr. Eisenman said there are 60 to 70 heat-related deaths every summer here in Los Angeles alone.

MERAJI: Sixty to 70 heat-related deaths in the city of LA every summer. Air conditioning - why can't we get it to folks? It feels like a simple solution.

PETERSON: Yeah. I mean, doctors like David Eisenman say air conditioning reduces your risk for heat sickness and for all those illnesses I just described. But it's not that simple, which brings me to the case of another woman I met, Amy Gonzalez. She lives not far from here in North Hollywood. She doesn't have air conditioning. She and her husband, Sergio (ph), live with their two kids, Sergio (ph) and Emily (ph). They're 9 and 5 years old. And it's a tiny, tiny little place. It's a little bigger than a hotel room. She still doesn't think that she could afford air conditioning. She doesn't think she could buy a unit. She doesn't think that she could pay the bill. And her landlord already told her that he's not going to help with any of that. And, by the way, there's no rule that says that he has to.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AMY GONZALEZ: They said that they have to have a heater in the house. Right? It's a must. Why they don't do a AC a must also?

PETERSON: Where Amy's kids go to school, about 90 percent of kids get free or reduced lunch, which is more than the district-wide average for Los Angeles Unified schools. Same for Pacoima, by the way - a much higher percentage of people here live in poverty than compared to the rest of Los Angeles. So even for people with air conditioning units, renters I talked to here in the San Fernando Valley, the hottest part of the city, extreme air conditioning bills can be like $150, $175, $200 a month.

MERAJI: Clearly, Molly, there's an affordability issue here. But like Marcela, Amy's also a mom. So the next thing I'm thinking is, how are her kids dealing with being hot in their apartment?

PETERSON: Well, OK. To start, Sergio suffers from asthma. And Sergio and Emily both get heat rashes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GONZALEZ: We go to Children's Hospital, right? They have their doctors there. You go there, and it's like $20 for parking already for them to tell you, oh, try to keep them cool. How do you keep them cool in a house that you don't have AC or anything that can be cooled? Impossible. They go, like, oh, you can put some uncooked oatmeal in the water. Put it in his body so it can moisture.

PETERSON: Get moisture from oatmeal baths - that's an inexpensive home remedy that people have recommended for decades. Amy says she's never done it because rats come into her apartment through the wall's heating vents. She doesn't even keep food in her house because, she says, that vermin, like cockroaches, get worse when it's hot. And that's happening more often.

MERAJI: Molly, you've been working on this story for over a year now. You've talked to hundreds of people about this. Please tell me that you've talked to people who are doing something to track it, to make it better, to - I don't know - to address this issue in some way.

PETERSON: OK. So yeah, you hit on something when you said track. People are starting to try to figure out how to track this. So remember Dr. David Eisenman from UCLA?

MERAJI: Yeah, he's the guy who says people aren't sleeping on their porches anymore.

PETERSON: Right, exactly. He says we can track the stuff better. And a good example is with Amy Gonzales. So when she takes her kid with asthma into an emergency room, that gets tracked as an asthma problem, not as a heat problem.

MERAJI: Got it.

PETERSON: And that's true for any other chronic disease.

MERAJI: Diabetes, high blood pressure - I'm just thinking about...

PETERSON: Yeah.

MERAJI: ...Things that disproportionately affect people of color right now.

PETERSON: And he says the problem is that's just not happening quite yet.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

EISENMAN: It's not been a statewide effort to help the medical profession understand this better. We're not do anything to systematically warn our patients about it. I don't know where it's being dealt with at that level.

PETERSON: But he's doing his part. He's part of a team that just released new maps about heat illness and hospitalizations, how they're spread out by ZIP code around Los Angeles.

MERAJI: And what does it look like here in Pacoima?

PETERSON: Yeah, that's not so surprising. I mean, it's higher than average for both of those things, for heat sickness indicators. But there's so much more to study about all the rest of the city.

MERAJI: Well, what's the government doing? What are local and state officials doing, if anything, to figure this stuff out?

PETERSON: Well, the City of Los Angeles has made a big splash lately. They said that they are working on ways to reduce the overall urban heat island effect. Three ways to do it - add more trees; put a covering on some streets to cool down streets - it's called cool pavement; and then reflect more heat away from the ground by having cool roofs, rooftops that are lighter in color.

MERAJI: OK. That sounds like it's going to take a minute.

PETERSON: Yeah, they say it's going to take about a generation or so to get those three things done.

MERAJI: So what about air conditioning? Are local or state officials looking to subsidize it in any way to get it into people's homes?

PETERSON: The environmental groups that helped push for this policy, they don't exactly push for more air conditioning. And there's good reasons for that. Mainstream environmental groups are trying to get people to use less energy and to use more efficient appliances. And guess what's not a more efficient appliance.

MERAJI: A window AC unit.

PETERSON: Yep. There are housing groups that are trying to ask questions about whether air conditioning should be a right for tenants or whether there should be more air conditioning for people, but they're not getting very far.

MERAJI: And I'm not hearing very much about the structural issues we've been talking about, which is housing segregation and poverty. What about those things?

PETERSON: Well, think about all the people we've heard from. We've talked to, you know, climatologists and doctors and people who live in this neighborhood. Nobody's got a handle on the overall picture. And the problem is complicated not just because it's about health care, not just because it's about climate change, not just because housing is a hard problem to solve. It actually might be something deeper and older that we have to think about.

MERAJI: What do you mean?

PETERSON: I mean, how people from all different backgrounds and different races live in a big city like Los Angeles. Rachel Morello-Frosch - she's an environmental scientist at UC Berkeley. She told me something really interesting. She says everyone's heat health risks are worse when the city is really segregated.

MERAJI: Everyone's?

PETERSON: Everyone. If you're a white person in a segregated city, your risk is higher than a white person in a less segregated city.

MERAJI: I don't understand.

PETERSON: Well, they don't exactly know why yet. But she told me about a theory out there among some economists who've thought about this problem that in segregated communities, there's not as much trust. So people do less together to benefit the public good, like building more parks in places like this one that we're sitting in in Pacoima. And if that's true, in places like this - in places that are segregated, solutions to urban heat problems to improve everyone's health risks will have to take into account historic inequity. People would have to work together and think about things that they've been trying to ignore for a century.

MERAJI: I feel like you gave us a lot to think about, and I appreciate it. Thank you so much.

PETERSON: Thank you.

DEMBY: All right, y'all, that's our show for this week.

MERAJI: And we've got to say, Molly got support for her reporting from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California.

DEMBY: We want to hear from y'all. Email us at codeswitch@npr.org. You can tweet at us. We're @NPRCodeSwitch. And subscribe to the podcast wherever fine podcasts can be found or streamed. If you're on iTunes, please leave us a review. It's how people find the podcast.

MERAJI: Maria Paz Gutierrez, Leah Donnella and I produced this episode. We had original music by Ramtin Arablouei.

DEMBY: A shoutout to the rest of the CODE SWITCH fam, Karen Grigsby Bates - happy birthday, KGB. Kat Chow, who is down in Florida, stay dry and safe. And we welcome our new intern Nana Boateng (ph).

MERAJI: I love your last name, Boateng.

DEMBY: Boateng.

MERAJI: Where have I heard that last name before?

DEMBY: 'Cause, like, literally every Ghanaian person in the world has that last name.

MERAJI: Oh.

(LAUGHTER)

MERAJI: Gene's allowed to say that 'cause he's Ghanaian.

DEMBY: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEATHLESS (FT. KAMASI WASHINGTON)")

IBEYI: (Singing) Whatever happens, whatever happened. We are deathless.

DEMBY: And if you're wondering what that very, very dope song is underneath us right now, that's the song that's giving Nana life. It's called "Deathless" by Ibeyi and Kamasi Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DEATHLESS (FT. KAMASI WASHINGTON)")

IBEYI: (Singing) We are deathless.

MERAJI: Anyway, Sami Yenigun edited this episode.

DEMBY: I'm Gene Demby.

MERAJI: And I'm Shereen Marisol Meraji.

DEMBY: Be easy, y'all.

MERAJI: Peace.

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