Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is affected more of them all? As an international public health student, I've observed that climate change affects different populations unequally, regardless of their geographic location or country. People with fewer economic resources and certain racial/ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected due to climate change. In the state of New Jersey, heat events are predicted to increase both in intensity and duration. This summer in Jersey City, we must acknowledge that climate change isn't just an environmental issue but also a significant public health concern.

Climate change is exacerbating the occurrence and severity of heat waves, resulting in increased illnesses and deaths due to heat stroke. The reason for increased temperatures is due to greenhouse gas emissions from sources such as transportation, electricity production, and industrial activities. These cause increased temperatures both at the surface and sea levels, leading to conditions like drought and flooding.

Given Jersey City's housing infrastructure, the city is at severe risk of experiencing heat waves. The buildings are arranged in a manner that traps heat and prevents the free flow of air, further increasing temperatures. Additionally, the lack of trees and parks hinders heat absorption, leading to a “heat island” effect. Increased numbers of vehicles and construction also release additional heat into the surrounding areas, exacerbating heat waves.

Jersey City officials should make cooling centers and free drinking water stations more accessible, especially during summer months, in order to address rising number of deaths among low-income families and minority communities.

Increased heat can pose a threat to human health, causing heat exhaustion, heat cramps, or heat stroke, with symptoms such as fatigue, high body temperature, profuse sweating, nausea, or vomiting. However, does everyone experience the effects of rising temperatures equally? Well, the answer is no. The impact is not equal; people with fewer economic resources and certain racial/ethnic groups like non-Hispanic Black and Hispanic populations are disproportionately affected by heat waves due to substandard housing without proper insulation and limited access to cooling. As heat waves become more intense and persistent, air conditioning is now considered a basic necessity. Unfortunately, residents with fewer resources often lack access to air conditioning, leading to increased heat-associated deaths, which are predicted to rise in the coming years.

Jersey City officials should make cooling centers and free drinking water stations more accessible, especially during summer months, in order to address rising number of deaths among low-income families and minority communities. For people who do not have access to air conditioning at home, cooling centers can be established in public buildings like libraries, community centers, etc, providing a safe, air-conditioned environment for those without access to cooling at home. Free drinking water stations can be set up in strategic locations like crosswalks throughout the city, ensuring access to hydration during heat waves. Additionally, policies can be implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improving crowded infrastructure. Workplace regulations concerning outdoor workers such as mandatory rest breaks, heat stress training to recognize signs of heat stroke, and encouraging workers to speak up if they feel unwell, should be reinforced to prevent the incidence of heat stroke among them.

Climate change will only magnify health disparities if we fail to protect our most vulnerable populations today. We, as a community, can also play a small part by writing letters to our government representatives, advocating for cooling centers and green spaces, and checking on neighbors during heat waves. Together, we can build a healthier and more adaptable Jersey City for all residents.

Dhruti Patel is a Master of Public Health student at SUNY Downstate Health Sciences University, Brooklyn and a Jersey City resident.