Record heat waves illuminate plight of poorest Americans who suffer without air conditioning

Temperatures are hotter in America's low-income neighborhoods like the Denver suburb of Globeville, where many residents are low-income and people of color living in stretches of concrete that hold heat like a cast-iron skillet. (AP Photo)
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Updated 31 July 2023
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Record heat waves illuminate plight of poorest Americans who suffer without air conditioning

  • As climate change fans hotter and longer heat waves, breaking record temperatures across the US and leaving dozens dead, the poorest Americans suffer the hottest days with the fewest defenses

DENVER: As Denver neared triple-digit temperatures, Ben Gallegos sat shirtless on his porch swatting flies off his legs and spritzing himself with a misting fan to try to get through the heat. Gallegos, like many in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods, doesn’t have air conditioning.
The 68-year-old covers his windows with mattress foam to insulate against the heat and sleeps in the concrete basement. He knows high temperatures can cause heat stroke and death, and his lung condition makes him more susceptible. But the retired brick layer, who survives on about $1,000 a month largely from Social Security, says air conditioning is out of reach.
“Take me about 12 years to save up for something like that,” he said. “If it’s hard to breathe, I’ll get down to emergency.”
As climate change fans hotter and longer heat waves, breaking record temperatures across the US and leaving dozens dead, the poorest Americans suffer the hottest days with the fewest defenses. Air conditioning, once a luxury, is now a matter of survival.
As Phoenix weathered its 27th consecutive day above 110 degrees (43 Celsius) Wednesday, the nine who died indoors didn’t have functioning air conditioning, or it was turned off. Last year, all 86 heat-related deaths indoors were in uncooled environments.
“To explain it fairly simply: Heat kills,” said Kristie Ebi, a University of Washington professor who researches heat and health. “Once the heat wave starts, mortality starts in about 24 hours.”
It’s the poorest and people of color, from Kansas City to Detroit to New York City and beyond, who are far more likely to face grueling heat without air conditioning, according to a Boston University analysis of 115 US metros.
“The temperature differences ... between lower-income neighborhoods, neighborhoods of color and their wealthier, whiter counterparts have pretty severe consequences,” said Cate Mingoya-LaFortune of Groundwork USA, an environmental justice organization. “There are these really big consequences like death. ... But there’s also ambient misery.”
Some have window units that can offer respite, but “in the dead of heat, it don’t do nothing,” said Melody Clark, who stopped Friday to get food at a nonprofit in Kansas City, Kansas, as temperatures soared to 101, and high humidity made it feel like 109. When the central air conditioning at her rental house went on the fritz, her landlord installed a window unit. But it doesn’t do much during the day.
So the 45-year-old wets her hair, cooks outside on a propane grill and keeps the lights off indoors. She’s taken the bus to the library to cool off. At night she flips the box unit on, hauling her bed into the room where it’s located to sleep.
As far as her two teenagers, she said: “They aren’t little bitty. We aren’t dying in the heat. ... They don’t complain.”
While billions in federal funding have been allocated to subsidize utility costs and the installation of cooling systems, experts say they often only support a fraction of the most vulnerable families and some still require prohibitive upfront costs. Installing a centralized heat pump system for heating and cooling can easily reach $25,000.
President Joe Biden announced steps on Thursday to defend against extreme heat, highlighting the expansion of the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which funnels money through states to help poorer households pay utility bills.
While the program is critical, said Michelle Graff, who studies the subsidy at Cleveland State University, only about 16 percent of the nation’s eligible population is actually reached. Nearly half of states don’t offer the federal dollars for summer cooling.
“So people are engaging in coping mechanisms, like they’re turning on their air conditioners later and leaving their homes hotter,” Graff said.
While frigid temperatures and high heating bills birthed the term “heat or eat,” she said, “we can now transition to AC or eat, where people are going to have to make difficult decisions.”
As temperatures rise, so does the cost of cooling. And temperatures are already hotter in America’s low-income neighborhoods like Gallegos’ Denver suburb of Globeville, where people live along stretches of asphalt and concrete that hold heat like a cast-iron skillet. Surface temperatures there can be roughly 8 degrees hotter than in Denver’s wealthier neighborhoods, where a sea of vegetation cools the area, according to the environmental advocacy group American Forests.
This disparity plays out nationwide. Researchers at the University of San Diego analyzed 1,056 counties and in over 70 percent, the poorest areas and those with higher Black, Hispanic and Asian populations were significantly hotter.
About one in 10 US households have no air conditioning, a disparity compounded for marginalized groups, according to a study by the Brookings Institution. Less than 4 percent of Detroit’s white households don’t have air conditioning; it’s 15 percent for Black households.
At noon on Friday, Katrice Sullivan sat on the porch of her rented house on Detroit’s westside. It was hot and muggy, but even steamier inside the house. Even if she had air conditioning, Sullivan said she’d choose her moments to run it to keep her electricity bill down.
The 37-year-old factory worker pours water on her head, freezes towels to put around her neck, and sits in her car with the air conditioner on. “Some people here spend every dollar for food, so air conditioning is something they can’t afford,” she said.
Shannon Lewis, 38, lived in her Detroit home for nearly 20 years without air conditioning. Lewis’s bedroom was the only place with a window unit, so she’d squeeze her teenager, 8-year-old and 3-year-old-twins into her queen-size bed to sleep, eat meals and watch television.
“So it was like cool in one room and a heat stroke in another,” Lewis said. For the first time, Lewis now has air conditioning through a local non-profit, she said. “We don’t have to sleep or eat in the same room, we are able to come out, sit at the dining room table, eat like a family.”
After at least 54 died during a 2021 heat wave, mostly elderly people without air conditioning, in the Portland area, Oregon passed a law prohibiting landlords from placing blanket bans on air conditioning units. By and large, however, states don’t have laws requiring landlords to provide cooling.
In the federal Inflation Reduction Act, billions were set aside for tax credits and rebates to help families install energy-efficient cooling systems, but some of those are yet to be available. For people like Gallegos, who doesn’t pay taxes, the available credits are worthless.
The law also offers rebates, the kind of state and federal point-of-sale discounts that Amanda Morian has looked into for her 640-square-foot home.
Morian, who has a 13-week-old baby susceptible to hot weather, is desperate to keep her house in Denver’s Globeville suburb cool. She bought thermal curtains, ceiling fans and runs a window unit. At night she tries to do skin-to-skin touch to regulate the baby’s body temperature. When the back door opens in the afternoon, she said, the indoor temperature jumps a degree.
“All of those are just to take the edge off, it’s not enough to actually make it cool. It’s enough to keep us from dying,” she said.
She got estimates from four different companies for installing a cooling system, but every project was between $20,000 and $25,000, she said. Even with subsidies she can’t afford it.
“I’m finding that you have to afford the project in the first place and then it’s like having a bonus coupon to take $5,000 off of the sticker price,” she said.
Lucy Molina, a single mom in Commerce City, one of Denver’s poorest areas, said her home has reached 107 degrees without air conditioning. Nearby, Molina’s two teenage children slurped popsicles to cool off, lingering in front of the open freezer.
For Molina, who bustled around her kitchen on a recent day when temperatures reached 99 degrees outdoors, it’s hard to see any path to a cooling respite.
“We’re just too poor,” she said.

 


US Navy pilots come home after months of shooting down Houthi missiles and drones

Updated 16 sec ago
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US Navy pilots come home after months of shooting down Houthi missiles and drones

  • Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain in what they say is a campaign to support the militant group Hamas in its war the Gaza against Israel

VIRGINIA BEACH, Virginia: US Navy fighter pilots came home to Virginia feeling relieved Friday after months of shooting down Houthi-launched missiles and drones off Yemen’s coast in the most intense running sea battle the Navy has faced since World War II.
F/A-18 Super Hornets swooped over waiting families in a low formation before landing at their base in Virginia Beach. Dressed in green flight suits, the aviators embraced women in summer dresses and kids carrying American flags. Some handed red roses to their wives and daughters.
“We’re going to go sit down on the couch, and we’re going to try and make up for nine months of lost time,” Cmdr. Jaime Moreno said while hugging his two young daughters, ages 2 and 4, and kissing his wife Lynn.
Clearing the emotion from his voice, Moreno said he couldn’t be prouder of his team and “everything that the last nine months have entailed.”
The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier strike group, which includes three other warships, was protecting merchant vessels and allied warships under fire in a vital Red Sea corridor that leads to the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean.
Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have been attacking ships linked to Israel, the United States or Britain in what they say is a campaign to support the militant group Hamas in its war the Gaza against Israel, though they frequently have targeted ships with no clear links to Israel or its supporters, imperiling shipping in a key route for global trade.
The US and its allies have been fighting back: One round of fire in January saw F/A-18s from the Eisenhower and other ships shoot down 18 drones, two anti-ship cruise missiles and a ballistic missile launched by the Houthis.
US Navy sailors have seen incoming Houthi-launched missiles seconds before they are destroyed by their ship’s defensive systems. Officials in the Pentagon have been talking about how to care for the sailors when they return home, including counseling and treatment for possible post-traumatic stress.
Cmdr. Benjamin Orloff, a Navy pilot, told reporters in Virginia Beach on Friday that most of the sailors, including him, weren’t used to being fired on given the nation’s previous military engagements in recent decades.
“It was incredibly different,” Orloff said. “And I’ll be honest, it was a little traumatizing for the group. It’s something that we don’t think about a lot until you’re presented with it.”
But at the same time, Orloff said sailors responded with grit and resilience.
“What’s impressive is how all those sailors turned right around — — and given the threat, given that stress — — continued to do their jobs beyond reproach,” Orloff said, adding that it was “one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
The carrier strike group had left Virginia in mid-October. Its deployment was extended twice because of the importance of having a powerful carrier strike group, which can launch fighter jets at a moment’s notice, in the volatile region.
The months of fighting and extensions placed extra stress on roughly 7,000 sailors and their families.
Caitlyn Jeronimus, whose husband Keith is a Navy lieutenant commander and pilot, said she initially thought this deployment would be relatively easy, involving some exercises with other NATO countries. But then Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, and plans changed.
“It was going to be, if you could call it, a fun deployment where he’s going to get lots of ports to visit,” Jeronimus said.
She said the Eisenhower’s plans continued to change, which was exacerbated by the knowledge that there were “people who want to harm the ship.”
Jeronimus leaned on counselors provided by the Navy.
Her two children, aged 5 and 8, were old enough to understand “that daddy has been gone for a long time,” she said. “It was stressful.”

 


Webb Space Telescope’s latest cosmic shot shows pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in infrared

Updated 28 min 47 sec ago
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Webb Space Telescope’s latest cosmic shot shows pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in infrared

  • The Penguin and Egg galaxies have been tangled up and will eventually merge into a single galaxy, according to NASA

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: The Webb Space Telescope has captured a pair of intertwined galaxies glowing in the infrared.
The observatory operated by NASA and the European Space Agency photographed the two galaxies 326 million light-years away, surrounded by a blue haze of stars and gas. A light-year is 5.8 trillion miles.
The pictures, released Friday, marks the second anniversary of Webb’s science operations.
The neighboring galaxies, nicknamed Penguin and the Egg, have been tangled up for tens of millions of years, according to NASA. They’ll eventually merge into a single galaxy. The same interaction will happen to our own Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy in 4 billion years, the space agency said.
Considered the successor to the aging Hubble Space Telescope, Webb is the biggest and most powerful astronomical observatory ever launched. It rocketed away in 2021 and underwent six months of commissioning, before its first official images were released in July 2022.
It’s positioned 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) from Earth.
“In just two years, Webb has transformed our view of the universe,” NASA’s Mark Clampin said in a statement.
 


Alabama agrees to forgo autopsy of Muslin inmate scheduled to be executed next week

Keith Edmund Gavin. (Photo/Social media)
Updated 31 min 17 sec ago
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Alabama agrees to forgo autopsy of Muslin inmate scheduled to be executed next week

  • “No autopsy will be performed on Keith Edmund Gavin. His remains will be picked up by the attending funeral home,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an emailed statement

MONTGOMERY, Alabama: Alabama has agreed to forgo an autopsy on a Muslim death row inmate, scheduled to be executed next week, who said the post-mortem procedure would violate his religious beliefs.
Keith Edmund Gavin had filed a lawsuit against the state seeking to avoid the autopsy, which is typically performed after executions in Alabama. The Alabama prison system in a Friday statement said it had agreed to forgo the autopsy.
“No autopsy will be performed on Keith Edmund Gavin. His remains will be picked up by the attending funeral home,” the Alabama Department of Corrections said in an emailed statement.
Gavin, 64, is set to be executed July 18 by lethal injection at a south Alabama prison.
Gavin filed a lawsuit last month asking a judge to block the state from performing an autopsy after his execution. His attorneys did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.
“Mr. Gavin is a devout Muslim. His religion teaches that the human body is a sacred temple, which must be kept whole. As a result, Mr. Gavin sincerely believes that an autopsy would desecrate his body and violate the sanctity of keeping his human body intact. Based on his faith, Mr. Gavin is fiercely opposed to an autopsy being performed on his body after his execution,” his attorneys wrote in the lawsuit filed in state court in Montgomery.
His attorneys said they filed the lawsuit after being unable to have “meaningful discussions” with state officials about his request to avoid an autopsy. They added that the court filing is not an attempt to stay the execution and that “Gavin does not anticipate any further appeals or requests for stays of his execution.”
William Califf, a spokesman for Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, said earlier this week that “we are working on a resolution” in the case,
Gavin was convicted of capital murder for the 1998 shooting death of William Clinton Clayton Jr. in Cherokee County in northeast Alabama. Clayton, a delivery driver, had stopped at an ATM to get money to take his wife to dinner when he was shot, prosecutors said.
A jury voted 10-2 in favor of the death penalty for Gavin. The trial court accepted the jury’s recommendation and sentenced him to death.

 


SpaceX rocket accident leaves company’s Starlink satellites in wrong orbit

Updated 27 min 57 sec ago
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SpaceX rocket accident leaves company’s Starlink satellites in wrong orbit

  • An upper stage engine malfunctioned minutes after the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Thursday night, carrying 20 Starlink satellites
  • More than 6,000 orbiting Starlinks currently provide Internet service to customers in some of the most remote corners of the world

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: A SpaceX rocket has failed for the first time in nearly a decade, leaving the company’s Internet satellites in an orbit so low that they’re doomed to fall through the atmosphere and burn up.
The Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from California on Thursday night, carrying 20 Starlink satellites. Several minutes into the flight, the upper stage engine malfunctioned. SpaceX on Friday blamed a liquid oxygen leak.
The company said flight controllers managed to make contact with half of the satellites and attempted to boost them to a higher orbit using onboard ion thrusters. But with the low end of their orbit only 84 miles (135 kilometers) above Earth — less than half what was intended — “our maximum available thrust is unlikely to be enough to successfully raise the satellites,” the company said via X.
SpaceX said the satellites will reenter the atmosphere and burn up. There was no mention of when they might come down. More than 6,000 orbiting Starlinks currently provide Internet service to customers in some of the most remote corners of the world.
The Federal Aviation Administration said the problem must be fixed before Falcon rockets can fly again.
It was not known if or how the accident might impact SpaceX’s upcoming crew flights. A billionaire’s spaceflight is scheduled for July 31 from Florida with plans for the first private spacewalk, followed in mid-August by an astronaut flight to the International Space Station for NASA.
The tech entrepreneur who will lead the private flight, Jared Isaacman, said Friday that SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has “an incredible track record” and as well as an emergency escape system.
The last launch failure occurred in 2015 during a space station cargo run. Another rocket exploded the following year during testing on the ground.
SpaceX’s Elon Musk said the high flight rate will make it easier to identify and correct the problem.

 


District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

Updated 12 July 2024
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District court rebuffs fining Netherlands for Israel jet parts

  • The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35”

THE HAGUE: Dutch judges on Friday slapped down an urgent request by a trio of rights groups to penalize the Netherlands for not respecting a ban on supplying F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel.
In a landmark verdict in February, an appeals court ordered the Netherlands to stop delivering parts for fighter jets used by Israel in its offensive in the Gaza Strip.
But the rights groups went back to court in June, saying that the ban has not prevented parts ending up in Israeli planes.
Their lawyers accused the Dutch government of continuing “to deliver (parts) to other countries, including the US.”
The three groups asked The Hague District Court in an urgent request to impose a €50,000 per day fine on the state for not respecting the verdict.
Their lawyers said F-35 parts exported by the Netherlands continued to reach Israel via other routes, including the so-called “Global Spares Pool” — a joint stock of spare parts maintained by countries that operate the F-35.
The Hague District Court’s judges agreed on Friday but stressed February’s judgment “said nothing about the route that parts take via other countries for the production of the F-35.”
The judges said the February judgment had a “more limited scope” than the rights group’s current urgent request.
“It has not been demonstrated that the state is not complying with the ban or does not intend to continue to comply,” the judges said.
“Therefore, there is no penalty for a violation,” the judges said.
In its verdict in February, appeals judges found that there was a “clear risk” the planes would be involved in breaking international humanitarian law.
The Dutch government then acknowledged it could not prevent parts shipped to the US from eventually ending up in Israeli F-35s.
But its lawyers said it did not believe the Netherlands had to restrict exports of F-35 parts to countries other than Israel.
The Dutch government added that it would implement the February verdict but announced that it would appeal to the Supreme Court.