Over Labor Day weekend, California was blanketed by a record-breaking heatwave. Fresno reached 113 degrees Fahrenheit, Sacramento, 114 degrees Fahrenheit. The state asked residents to cut their power use, and only narrowly avoided blackouts.  

Heatwaves are the deadliest weather event in the United States every year. Extreme heat is an environmental justice issue, as it affects low-income and communities of color disproportionately. This week on the show, producer Alexandria Herr took a deep dive to try to understand how heat waves become so deadly, and how cities can protect people from the heat.

She spoke to Dr. Erik Klinenberg, a sociologist whose work on the 1995 heat wave in Chicago helped understand how heat waves cause cities to break down. When he looked at that heat wave, he found a mystery: a handful of neighborhoods, with the same demographics, but with vastly different mortality rates from the heat. 

The answer to that mystery is key to understanding how heat waves become so deadly – and those lessons are being used by people working to protect communities from extreme heat today. 


  • Dr. Erik Klinenberg is a professor of sociology at New York University and the author of Heat Wave.    
  • Sonal Jessel is the Director of Policy at WEACT. You can read their audit of New York City cooling centers here.
  • Danielle Renwick is the editor of Nexus Media News. You can read her work on how U.S. cities are preparing for extreme heat here.

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