Bellagio Conversations/

Extreme Urban Heat Conference With the Arsht-Rock

Representatives from the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center share why tackling the intensifying effects of heat requires making heatwaves easily identifiable.

In 2019, the Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center (Arsht-Rock) gathered at Bellagio for their convening, which had the theme “Extreme Urban Heat.” Arsht-Rock works to build community resilience in response to the intensifying and unequal effects of the climate crisis.  Rising global temperatures – with their related health and economic impacts – were central to the discussions taking place at the convening. Kathy Baughman McLeod (the Senior Vice President) and Geraldine Henrich Koenis (the Director of Communications) share Bellagio’s impact on their work.

People are surprised when they hear that heat kills more people than any other climate-driven disaster. That’s because heat is an invisible and silent risk. So, we’ve been trying to give an identity and visual brand to the threat of heat to highlight how dangerous and harmful it is. One key point that we knew and continue to learn more about is the disproportionate burden extreme heat has on low-income and marginalized communities. As an organization, we’ve been building awareness as our top priority and many tools and resources over our three-plus years of operating. These tools help cities measure the impacts and risks of extreme heat. They also help map and prioritize communities most at risk. The next step is to put together a plan for tackling dangerous levels of heat and reducing the ill effects on people and their livelihoods. We’ve done this in coordination with many organizations around the world. As a result, cities and individuals can protect themselves from unnecessary harm. People are dying because of heat – but they don’t have to.

One of the participants at our convening was an author and a journalist named Jeff Goodell, who’s written a book called The Water Will Come. Coincidentally, he’s writing a book about heat right now. At some point during our convening in 2019, Jeff said: “If this climate killer is silent, how will we ever solve it?” His question sparked a crucial point: you can’t solve something if you don’t know it’s there. You can’t even address something that you can’t see, hear, or touch. That was a pivotal moment at the convening.

And that was the big moment in the room when everyone was quiet. That’s why the Bellagio convening was so instrumental.

  • It was as a result of our time at Bellagio that we knew to make awareness and understanding of this silent killer our number one priority.
    Jeff Goodell
    Author and Journalist

We later came to the realization that naming and categorizing heat waves could be the way to bring awareness of the lethal dangers of heat to the entire world. That’s how Sevilla became the world’s first city to name a heatwave: Zoe. We also realized that we can’t, as a small group, tell the world about heat waves, but rather make leaders and influencers linked to vulnerable people aware of the role heat plays in climate-related fatalities and what actions can be taken to protect people.

That’s how Sevilla became the world’s first city to name a heatwave: Zoe. We also realized that we can’t, as a small group, tell the world about heat waves, but rather make leaders and influencers linked to vulnerable people aware of the role heat plays in climate-related fatalities and what actions can be taken to protect people.

If we hadn’t had the support and offered to bring people to Bellagio, we wouldn’t have had the perspective of people like Sophie Evans, who works for the Center for Disaster Protection. She has such a way of deeply understanding all aspects and implications of risk financing. At some point, she stepped up to the flip chart and started diagramming what this financial facility for heat would look like. And that was also a watershed moment. I don’t think we would have had an opportunity to access that kind of insight if we didn’t have the support and the global representation pulled together by The Rockefeller Foundation at Bellagio.

You always learn something new when you put a bunch of intelligent, motivated people in a room, especially when they’ve traveled to a beautiful setting, which energizes and enhances the experience. Bellagio afforded us an environment that made people open to new ideas and was central to building trust so that people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts. As time went on, we adapted the agenda as we got the feeling for how the group was working together. We developed a certain chemistry as a group. Even that wouldn’t have been possible without a setting with a backdrop of incredible natural beauty and a peaceful, warm environment conducive to big ideas and trust-based conversations.

The diversity of people getting together brought an infusion of intellectual capital. We made some connections we didn’t have, like Mauricio Rodas, the former Mayor of Quito, Ecuador. He is now a leader and a major part of our efforts. He was vice-chair of the Board of C40 Cities during his years as Mayor. We’d realized that we had this great group of people, but we didn’t have an elected official. Mauricio was the perfect fit. Now he’s the leader of our City Champions for Heat Action initiative. He also engaged his friend and former colleague the (now former) Mayor of Seville, which was the first city to name a heatwave.

This heatwave, Zoe, was named as a result of Mauricio’s relationship with the Arsht-Rock Resilience Center. Now, Arsht-Rock is made up of a group of people with a broad range of experiences. We have people who worked for mayors. We have experts who work for cities. We also have disaster managers and humanitarians, from the Red Cross, and insurance and reinsurance partners. We also had representatives from the Resilient Cities Network and a few of their Chief Resilience Officers. Many of these relationships were formed or solidified at Bellagio.

Everyone can do their part: there are a couple of actions we urge people to take. Everybody can perform their own personal heat risk assessment. Those at risk of heat go beyond young children, pregnant women, and the elderly. It’s everybody. The people coming into the emergency rooms have been young, healthy people who were exercising and thought they were immune to the risks of heat. So, we urge everyone to make their elected officials and policymakers aware of the many solutions for protecting people from heat, especially the lifesaving potential of naming and categorizing heat waves, among many other actions and policies. People do not have to die from heat! #NameTheWave!

Explore more

To find out more about the work of Arsht-Rock, you can visit their website or follow them on Twitter. You can also read Kathy McLeod’s reaction to the successes and failures of COP27.