Extreme heat is far deadlier than we think, and it’s expected to get worse

The sun sets on July 28, when temperatures in Desert Hot Springs reached a high of 110 degrees.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, and welcome to the Essential California newsletter. It’s Friday, October 8. I’m Matt Hamilton.

My colleagues Anna Phillips, Tony Barboza, Ruben Vives and Sean Greene set out to document one of the deadliest results of global warming: extreme heat.

In a package of stories published this week, they detailed that although California positions itself as the vanguard of responding to climate change, the state has failed to address the rising threat of heat-related illnesses and fatalities, or even get a true assessment of the problem.

The hottest decade on record in the Golden State was between 2010 and 2019. Official data from that time span attributes 599 deaths to heat exposure.

But The Times looked at mortality data from this period and measured how many more people died on extremely hot days than would have been common on another typical day with more temperate weather. The data analysis shows that the true death toll is six times higher than the official count, estimating that extreme heat likely caused about 3,900 people to die.


The data show other troubling trends: the burden of extreme heat has fallen most heavily on vulnerable populations: the sick, poor, elderly and those very young. Black people in California are more likely to perish from heat than those of any other race, and people over 65 are also at significant risk.

“People who have air conditioning, people who have jobs that don’t require them to be outside or in a hot warehouse can view a heat wave a little more like a mild inconvenience rather than the life-threatening event it could be,” Elizabeth Rhoades, who directs the L.A. County health department’s climate change and sustainability program, told The Times’ reporters.

Among the shortcomings of the state’s response to the problem of extreme heat: There are no heat exposure rules for people in schools, jails or prisons. Although landlords must make housing units “habitable” for their tenants by supplying heating, no rules exist that require air conditioning. And the state spends less on protecting against heat than it spends on wildfires or floods — all of which are less deadly.

California’s lackluster response to extreme heat comes as other governments have pursued action. In New York City, for example, near-real time data on the number of heat-related emergency room visits is posted online, and tens of thousands of seniors received free air conditioners during the pandemic. France has a national heat wave plan that includes a public alert system, part of a package of measures implemented after a bout of extreme heat in 2003 left 15,000 people dead.

Left unaddressed, the future is grim.

Researchers anticipate that by mid-century, the number of days above 95 degrees in Los Angeles could double, triple or quadruple, depending on pollution levels.


Analysis by scientists and researchers at the Climate Impact Lab showed that rising temperatures could lead to thousands more people dying annually from rising temperatures by 2050. That death toll would render heat more deadly than diabetes, and close to the death rate from lung disease.

To read more about the rising threat of extreme heat in California, check out this guide on how to protect loved ones from extreme heat and this examination of how access to air conditioning is a matter of life or death.

Here’s a deep dive into the role of climate change and how it is making heat waves more frequent and more deadly.

And now, here’s what’s happening across California:

Note: Some of the sites we link to may limit the number of stories you can access without subscribing.


A UCLA anesthesiologist who is a vocal opponent of the coronavirus vaccine was escorted from his workplace for being unvaccinated.
The unvaccinated physician, Dr. Christopher B. Rake, attempted to enter a building at UCLA’s Westwood campus and filmed himself being escorted by three people. “This is what happens when you stand up for freedom and when you show up to work, willing to work, despite being unvaccinated, and this is the price you have to pay sometimes,” Rake says in the video. UCLA said that employees who are unvaccinated and lack an exemption will face progressive discipline, including being placed on leave. Los Angeles Times


A deeper look at Disney’s changing of the guard, as former CEO Bob Iger bids adieu. At his final official appearance at Disney’s annual leadership retreat earlier this year, Iger offered his advice to Disney brass: “In a world and business that is awash with data, it is tempting to use data to answer all of our questions, including creative questions,” he said, according to a report by The Hollywood Reporter’s Kim Masters. “I urge all of you not to do that.” But Iger is no longer in charge, many of his top deputies are exiting, and new CEO Bob Chapek has steered the company through the pandemic with a different style and sensibility than his predecessor. The Hollywood Reporter

Disney Chairman Bob Iger, left, and current CEO Bob Chapek, right.
(Business Wire)


The landscape of political influence-for-hire is changing in California with a slew of departures from a top lobbying firm. Former prominent Democratic elected officials Fabian Nuñez, Barbara Boxer and Antonio Villaraigosa led the mass resignations from Mercury Public Affairs, a powerful lobbying firm in the state. A financial dispute at the firm is triggering the exodus, with Nuñez suing Mercury’s parent company, alleging that it prevented the ex-California lawmakers from growing their business around the world. Los Angeles Times

Black and Latinx students are disproportionately harmed by lawmakers’ failure to oversee or take action against disciplinary practices in some school districts, including transferring students to alternative and often inferior programs, according to a lawsuit filed this week by parents in Kern and Los Angeles counties. Students of color continue to be overrepresented in the annual expulsion and suspension rates of school districts — and the lawsuit contends that the state education leaders have failed to address that disparity. Los Angeles Times


Costs from the Los Angeles Police Department’s botched detonation of illegal fireworks in South L.A. this summer have surpassed $1.2 million, but the total cost of the explosion — which injured 17 people and damaged or destroyed dozens of homes, businesses and cars — is far from clear. The city has also settled 59 claims related to the incident, but another 128 are unresolved. Los Angeles Times

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia said that prosecutors should “absolutely” file criminal charges against a Long Beach Unified school safety officer accused of fatally shooting an 18-year-old woman. The officer, Eddie F. Rodriguez, fired into a moving car in which Mona Rodriguez, 18, was a passenger. Mona Rodriguez had just been involved in a fight with a 15-year-old girl near Millikan High School. Long Beach Post

Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia. (Christina House / Los Angeles Times)
Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia.
(Christina House/Los Angeles Times)


Residents of Los Angeles County now have to show proof of vaccination at some indoor businesses. L.A. County’s health order requires proof of COVID-19 vaccination at indoor bars, wineries, breweries, distilleries, nightclubs and lounges. Patrons and employees will need to show they have had at least one vaccine dose by Oct. 7 and be fully vaccinated by Nov. 4. Los Angeles Times

San Francisco is set to lift mask requirements in indoor gyms and offices next week — but only if everyone inside is vaccinated. It is a sign of improving COVID-19 conditions in California and would make San Francisco the first slice of the Bay Area to significantly relax the public indoor face covering requirements imposed in midsummer in response to the Delta variant surge. Los Angeles Times


A very California scandal engulfed this year’s season of ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.’ On the Bravo reality TV series, viewers saw first-hand how the stunning downfall of L.A. power lawyer Tom Girardi was processed by his estranged wife, Erika “Jayne” Girardi. Here, cast members Sutton Stracke, Crystal Kung Minkoff, and Garcelle Beauvais reflect on the tumultuous season. Stracke said of the Girardi allegations, “I was like, ‘Are we gonna keep hearing stories? On camera? Do we need an attorney to kind of help us, guide us through filming?’” Los Angeles Times

California grows 90% percent of all dates in the United States and most of them come from the Coachella Valley. The meaty and firm fruit — which has a significant role in Islamic cuisine and culture — can be used in stews, braises, smoothies and cakes. Christian Reynoso surveys the farming of dates in the Golden State for the L.A. Times’ food section. Los Angeles Times

Sam Cobb harvests a variety of dates, including Medjool, on his farm in Blythe.
Sam Cobb harvests a variety of dates, including Medjool, on his farm in Blythe.
(Mariah Tauger/Los Angeles Times)


Los Angeles: Scattered showers, 68. San Diego: Scattered showers, 68. San Francisco: Partly cloudy, 63. San Jose: Partly cloudy, 66. Fresno: Scattered showers, 67. Sacramento: Partly cloudy, 68.


Today’s California memory comes from Marilyn Noah:

The 1988 Marin County fair in San Rafael, California had a very special exhibit entitled “The Magic of Lucasfilm.” The props, costumes, and models were all on display. It was as if Marin local George Lucas had, for a few special days, allowed fairgoers to wander through his warehouse of professional keepsakes. I was working in the Financial District in San Francisco in 1988 and — before texting or social media — word was spreading fast about the Lucasfilm exhibit. “Go to the Marin County Fair ASAP. Stand in line as long as you have to. Don’t miss it.” The recent opening of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures reminded me of this special event decades ago, and how memorable it is to see movie stuff in person.

If you have a memory or story about the Golden State, share it with us. (Please keep your story to 100 words.)

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