It is unconscionable that in our rich country, we let blue-collar workers and the economically disadvantaged die needlessly in oppressive heat. Many of these deaths could have been prevented by better access to air-conditioned, safe places or hydration, by foreign workers providing heat safety information, or by people monitoring those most vulnerable to heat.

There are already good examples of what can be done. Dallas, for example, started an assistance program which distributes and installs free air conditioners for poor families, the elderly and the disabled. We can help offset and limit energy bills for those who are struggling economically. We can create more cooling stations and reduce heat islands by having more tree canopies. We can provide water stations for migrants. We can ensure that those who work outside are protected by law. And we can all volunteer, donate and support organizations that relieve the burden of struggling neighbors around us.

The economic differences in our country are fatal. Families like mine spend our summer complaining about the heat, but we can find ways to beat it. We go to the pool. We take trips to the beach or cooler places further north. We spend afternoons in bookstores, coffee shops or our well-conditioned homes. All this costs money.

And, importantly, we have a safety net, of both relationships and resources that help reduce the threats posed by extreme heat. If our air conditioner breaks, my family has dozens of people we could call who would take us in until we could fix it. These relational resources and community connections are where the role of religious and civic institutions becomes clearest. Sociologist Robert Putnam writes about how religious organizations like churches offer social capital – informal networks of community that help people out and rescue people from invisibility and isolation. As a pastor, I have seen the power of this as church members watch over and care for each other, especially the vulnerable in community.

We, as a society, cannot simply wash our hands of these deaths, passively blaming them on a number on a thermometer. Human society and industry have contributed to the rising heat of climate change. And human society – the government, the church and individuals alike – has failed to ensure that those most at risk are safe. So, while heat deaths are on the rise, when we talk about those who die, don’t just say they died of heat. Say they died of poverty, of neglect, of a world that values ​​the rich more than those who are not, of a society that looks away from the avoidable suffering of the vulnerable.

Tish Harrison Warren (@Tish_H_Warren) is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and the author of “Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Cry.”

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