Air-conditioned public spaces to reduce mortality and morbidity due to heat waves

The problem:
Ideally, mitigation and adaptation to climate change should be internal to the strategic and tactical planning processes of governments and corporations at every level. Experience over the past
decade has demonstrated the need for decision-aiding to pay close attention to:

  • Assessment of climate change priorities vis-à-vis pre-existing concerns shaping public policy.
  • Appreciation of interactions among climate impacts, measures designed for GHG mitigation and climate impact adaptation.
  • Understanding the distributive impacts of mitigation and adaptation measures and how public perceptions of these distributive issues can influence sound decision-making.

The research:
In partnership with the Province of British Columbia and Metro Vancouver, Dowlatabadi and Tim McDaniels will develop decision-aiding tools that help identify direct and indirect benefits, dis-benefits and interactions of climate related initiatives. This work will then serve as the overall assessment framework for future policy design. Preliminary investigations have identified areas in need of immediate attention. For example, the Provincial government offices are mandated to be climate neutral by 2012. In addition, pre-existing antipathy to big-box stores and the drive to mitigate GHG emissions has led to new building/zoning regulations proscriptive of air-conditioning. However, the heat-wave response team in Philadelphia have demonstrated the highly effective strategy of identifying vulnerable populations and transporting them to cool refugia for 2 hours per day during sustained heat-waves. Given the near absence of air conditioning in residential buildings in BC, we need to explore the costs and benefits of air-conditioned public spaces as refuges. In addition, we should be considering alternatives to conventional air conditioning as technological solutions that can both confer mitigation benefits and allow the benefits of air conditioning – e.g., TASK 25 of the IEA Solar and Heating Program is exploring solar thermal collectors to provide heating and absorption chillers for cooling. The benefit of such a strategy is its “self-righting” property of providing more chilling capacity when most needed, using ~25% of the direct electricity demand of conventional space conditioning for cooling.

The decision makers:
Vancouver, Ontario MoE.  Dowlatabadi is also negotiating with Cal EPA.