Dallas is on track for above-average extreme heat this summer, up even from last summer’s record-breaking heat. This is not surprising given that the city sits in the middle of an urban heat island and the entire planet is in the throes of super charged heat caused by climate change. What is, however, surprising is the city’s ongoing failure to adopt a heat action plan that is holistic, systemic, and human-centered. While other extreme heat cities have been ramping up for heat with public health programming, community resources, early warning alert systems, and Chief Heat Officer appointments, Dallas’ efforts have narrowly focused on trees, parks, and maps. This myopic focus derives from CECAP, the Comprehensive Environmental Climate and Action Plan, the city put into place in 2020 to address climate change. It’s time to revision Dallas’ climate action plan because it’s no longer aligned with climate change research, heat forecasts, public health needs, or critical heat and equity issues.

Heat is the number one health and death threat from climate change. Research has long shown that when temperatures rise so do rates of cardiovascular disease, respiratory conditions, pregnancy complications, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, crime, and domestic violence. During the summer, hospital admissions spike, ED visits surge, and heat-related mortality and morbidity escalate as temperatures rise. This is known as “heat season” in medicine and last summer heat-related emergencies were 50% higher than previous years in a cluster of extreme heat states, including Texas. Although extreme heat constitutes a public health crisis, heat is not identified as a primary area of concern or focus in Dallas’ climate action plan. Of the eight objectives outlined in CECAP for climate intervention, heat is not one of them; it’s a footnote to energy and infrastructure.

Heat studies have exploded in recent years, showing that the connection between heat and the human body is much more complex, nuanced, and dangerous than previously thought. One study found, for example, that women in the third trimester of pregnancy who are exposed to as few as three consecutive days of 95°F temperatures are at a 22% increased risk for severe maternal morbidity, including death. Other studies have shown that the detrimental effects of heat are not necessarily limited to extreme temperatures; the cumulative effect of more moderate temperatures may be equally harmful to human health. Another key finding centers around the importance of approaching heat mitigation and adaptation from a holistic and systemic perspective. This directive stands in stark contrast to Dallas’ climate action plan where air quality is the sole public health objective, siloed and disconnected from heat even though heat makes air quality much worse.

Dallas’ climate action plan also fails to address critical heat and equity issues. In September 2023, HB 2127 eliminated mandatory water breaks and access to shade for construction workers in Dallas, most of whom are Latino. Notably, Texas has the highest heat-related mortality for workers in the country. Equally disconcerting are the brutal heat conditions in Texas prisons where nearly half of the population is black. Two-thirds of Texas prisons are not air conditioned even though summer temperatures are routinely in the triple digits. In the summer,  concrete and metal cells can easily exceed 130+ degrees, temperatures that are both inhuman and unsafe. And then there is the Texas/Mexico border where last summer medics were instructed to withhold water from asylum seekers during life-threating heat waves, a certain death sentence. These heat equity issues cannot be addressed with trees, parks or heat maps.

As the effects of climate change continue to intensify, making heat more severe and frequent, it’s critical that cities approach heat mitigation and adaptation from a systemic, holistic, human-centered perspective. Dallas’ climate action plan is a “not enough” plan. It’s not enough to keep people safe, it’s not enough to protect climate-based human rights, and it’s not enough to address the complexities and dynamics of urban heat. #NotEnough