Climate change will hurt working-class and poor communities the hardest. Monsoons and absurd levels of heat are already battering huge portions of India, for example. Closer to home, much has already been written about “climate gentrification” in Miami — that is, the process by which wealthier people are buying up geographically “safer” land and pushing poorer folks into areas that will flood at faster rates.
But a new study out yesterday warns that yet another vulnerable group in Florida will face massive hardships — and perhaps increased rates of death — from global warming: outdoor laborers. This state will see a bigger spike in “deadly heat” days than any other, and a new report from the groups Public Citizen and the Farmworker Association of Florida (FAOF) warns that “excessive heat stress” from climate change is going to have nightmarish consequences for farm workers, construction laborers, and virtually all others who work outside in the sun.
“Florida already has one of the highest rates of heat-related hospitalizations in the nation, even when the data are adjusted for age,” the report warns. “In 2016, the most recent year for which data are available, Florida had 1,112 hospitalizations. These figures are almost certainly undercounts, as many of the illnesses that can result from heat stress, such as stroke or heart attack, often are not recognized or documented as having anything to do with heat. At present, there is no sign that rising heat will stop.”
According to the two nonprofit groups, outdoor laborers in Florida already report symptoms of heat-related illnesses, including heavy sweating, dizziness, chills, headaches, muscle cramps, and even full-blown kidney damage. In 2016, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health studied heat-related illnesses in Florida’s outdoor workers — 50 percent of participants showed up to work dehydrated to start, and one in three study participants experienced acute kidney damage during the study period. The nonprofits specifically criticize the Trump Administration for taking steps to weaken carbon emissions standards and leave the Paris Agreement to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
Multiple studies have laid out how dire Miami’s future looks when it comes to heat spikes: South Florida is expected to see 100 to 200 “deadly heat” days — when temperatures reach above 96.8 degrees— per year by 2100. That means for roughly two-thirds of every year, spending a few hours outside could kill you. Other research has consistently shown that people report increased mental stress during heat waves.
Per the study, about 98,000 people work outdoors in Miami-Dade County — roughly 8 percent of the total county workforce. While white-collar workers and the wealthy enjoy ultrapowerful air conditioners, outdoor workers are already being exposed to excessive heat “an extraordinary proportion of the time,” the study warns, adding that 99 percent of the days between May 1 and September 30 each year in Miami-Dade County included at least one hour above government-recommended “safe limits” for “heavy” outdoor work:
Public Citizen / FAOF
“Given the prevalence of dangerous heat levels, it is no surprise that individual workers report heat
illness symptoms and show indications of heat stress in startlingly high numbers,” the report notes.
Multiple workers told the nonprofit groups they feel pressured to either underreport heat-stress symptoms or ignore the warning signs. One former agricultural nursery worker said her coworkers typically “waited to drink water so that we didn’t have to go to the bathroom so often.” Another anonymous farm worker asserted he often worked through heat-related dizziness to avoid getting fired. Others reported fainting or suffering from spontaneous nosebleeds. In addition to the obvious admonition against pumping more carbon into the atmosphere, the nonprofits recommend that outdoor employers diligently stick to government heat and water guidelines for their employees and train workers to recognize heat stress. Otherwise, laborers might die.
“At a time when federal policy aims to accelerate rather than mitigate global warming,” the study notes, “Florida workers need protection from heat more than ever.”