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WE ACT’s Extreme Heat Coalition is Fighting for Heat-vulnerable Communities

By on June 25, 2024

We ACT coalition members stand in a room smiling

Caleb Smith head shot WE ACTBy Caleb Smith, Resiliency Coordinator, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

Launched in 2023, The Extreme Heat Coalition was born as an outgrowth of WE ACT’s Heat Health and Equity Initiative started in 2019. It started as a three-year program to find solutions to extreme heat and the forces of inequity that make the heat more dangerous for our community— Black New Yorkers die at twice the rate of their white neighbors from heat-exacerbated illness. This initiative was pivotal to the early stages of our Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) advocacy and Climate Justice Working Group-led Cooling Center Audit. We are pursuing NYC, NYS, and US legislation to address the deadly impact of extreme heat driven by climate change.

Even as WE ACT has been a steadfast and outspoken voice for more proactive and holistic extreme heat adaptation, we saw an opportunity to band together with organizations shining a light on similar policy gaps across the environmental, academic, social justice, and housing justice sectors. Our member organizations, which include the Natural Areas Conservancy and many others, have joined in a collective mission to eliminate health disparities among the most heat-vulnerable urban residents, who are disproportionately low income and people of color.

Combating extreme heat with new citywide heat policies

The Extreme Heat Coalition co-developed the 2024 heat policy agenda, building upon WE ACT’s 2023 Extreme Heat Policy Agenda and new objectives born out of collaboration. The agenda explores city and state adaptation policies, funding decisions, and climate goals with community and health informed recommendations to better align them with more equitable health outcomes. A wide variety of strategies that center nature, energy affordability, and equity in our built environment and emergency protocols are necessary to realize our vision. Today, the coalition is urging the City to prioritize these objectives: 

  1. Improve the city’s cooling centers
  2. Cool communities with more trees 
  3. Establish a maximum indoor temperature

Funding decisions are critical for climate health equity

It’s no secret that communities and advocates have been calling for responsible and fair investment into the parks system for decades now. In order to comprehensively care for the myriad needs of our urban canopy, funding the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation at 1% of the City’s Budget is not only necessary, but it is also a campaign promise Mayor Eric Adams has yet to fulfill. This failure to follow through on this pledge means the loss of 284 jobs in the Parks department, which would support the implementation of Local Law 148, the Urban Forest Plan. 

The Urban Forest Plan seeks to expand urban canopy (defined as all trees within New York City on both public and private property) from 22 to 30 percent land cover through interagency collaboration. Cuts to programs named in the “Program to Eliminate the Gap” budget cuts last year directly contradict the goals in the new law. For example, the trail formalization program proposed in 2023 serves to expand equitable access to green spaces for the most underserved neighborhoods. Stump removal optimizes green spaces because it makes way for new plantings. The tree risk management program exhausts measures to extend the life of mature trees by addressing public safety risks swiftly and preventing health decline of mature trees to the extent that they harm people, property, or infrastructure. 

The $55M loss to parks in the FY25 budget harms all of these services. Mayor Adams must recognize such funding actions diminish our adaptation capacity, marginalize efforts toward climate health equity, hamper green economy growth, and erode public trust in City leadership.

You can help! Reach out to your local City Council Member and tell them you’re against the budget cuts to Parks. Continue to sign and share the Play Fair letter to Mayor Adams against cuts to the budget for NYC Parks, and sign the petition demanding 1% of the City budget for Parks.

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