Amid the hustle and bustle of Dorchester’s Washington Street stands the Montserrat Aspirers, Inc. community center, a gathering spot for members of the Caribbean diaspora. Many of its frequent visitors, and their friends and family members, have felt the effects of climate change in the powerful storms that have pummeled the Caribbean in recent years.
So it was a fitting venue for an effort this week to help Bostonians prepare for severe heat, which is becoming increasingly common as the world warms.
A nonprofit that provides inclusive, hands-on climate education held an “extreme event preparedness” presentation Thursday evening to teach people how to stay safe during heat waves, which can cause serious illness or death, especially among young children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses.
Checking in on neighbors, knowing the signs of heat-related illness, and finding ways to stay cool are key to avoiding heat-related fatalities, said the Rev. Vernon Walker, program manager of Communities Responding to Extreme Weather, or CREW.
“Don’t underestimate how dangerous heat can be,” Walker said.
Boston is recovering from the highs of a fourth heat wave this past week. The city has seen 24 days with temperatures over 90 degrees in 2021 alone, and there are probably more to come, according to the National Weather Service.
From 1977 to 2000, Walker said, New England experienced temperatures of 90 degrees or more 11 times annually. He said Wednesday night that the area could see over 60 days with 90-degree heat between 2055 and 2084.
With more extreme heat on the horizon, people need to know what to do to stay safe. During heat waves, experts suggest covering windows with shades, drapes, or aluminum foil-covered cardboard; sipping cool water every 15 minutes if overheated; locating nearby air-conditioned spaces; and never leaving people or animals in cars unattended on hot days.
It’s also important to know the differences between heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heatstroke, and what to do if symptoms arise.
CREW is working to disseminate this information to all of Greater Boston, but especially in communities of color that are hardest hit. Most of the city’s Black and brown residents live on urban heat islands — areas that experience higher temperatures due to surrounding infrastructure.
“We’re all affected by climate change, but communities of color carry a heavier burden,” he said.
CREW has held “heat wave resistance workshops,” collaborated with local institutions on spreading awareness about climate change, and given out free heat relief kits. This year, Walker said they have also provided more than 100 air conditioners to Brockton residents.
To spread awareness about climate change, experts must also understand the cultures and traditions of the communities most affected, Walker said.
Authentic Caribbean Foundation, Inc., a local nonprofit focused on connecting disabled Caribbean youth with educational and health support, helped coordinate last Thursday’s event, and supplied chicken as well as rice and peas from Dorchester’s Taste of Eden restaurant.
“Climate is very crucial to the environment, and it’s very crucial to [Caribbeans],” said Andrew Sharpe, Authentic Caribbean Foundation, Inc.’s founder and CEO. Sharpe’s home country, Jamaica, has been devastated by a succession of hurricanes in recent decades. “It’s important that we provide that support and info.”
Larry Pirone, a Dorchester native, attended Wednesday’s event and won a $25 gift card. As a construction worker and the father of two young boys, he said combating extreme heat was important to him.
“It’s good to know we have programs like this reaching out to the community,” he said.
Tiana Woodard is a Report for America corps member covering Black neighborhoods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @tianarochon.