0:00:00 - (Ariel Choinard): You know, if you're going to talk about heat, you end up talking about housing, you end up talking about hunger, about climate, about pollution. I mean, it just it starts to tie so many different things together.
0:00:13 - (Voiceover): Welcome to a movement of kindness and empathy. You're listening to Compassionate Las Vegas, the podcast embarking on a mission to unite our city under the banner of compassion. We're one among four cities around the globe standing together to build a more compassionate world. Now introducing the man leading the charge, your host, Will Rucker.
0:00:34 - (Will Rucker): Welcome to compassionate Las Vegas. The podcast. This is season five, and we are going deep into how compassion is practically applied in our community, in our state, in our world today. And so we're touching on a number of what I find to be very fascinating subjects, and this episode is no exception to talk about heat. We're in August. It's been hot, y'all. I don't know about you, but I'm just trying to stay cool.
0:01:03 - (Will Rucker): But it's hard here in Vegas. So we've got a very special guest. Ariel. Sherd from the heat lab resilience center. Did I get that?
0:01:13 - (Ariel Choinard): It's you're. So it's the Southern Nevada Heat Resilience Lab.
0:01:18 - (Will Rucker): There you go. And we're going to talk all about heat, resilience and everything. So thank you for being a guest on the show, Ariel. I'm so excited to talk with you today.
0:01:26 - (Ariel Choinard): Thank you. I'm thrilled to be here. Thank you for having me.
0:01:30 - (Will Rucker): Absolutely. So we've had a chance to talk before this episode, which I don't always get to do, so I feel like we're just old friends catching up here.
0:01:39 - (Ariel Choinard): I feel the same way.
0:01:42 - (Will Rucker): Good. So to start us off, I want to ask the hardest question of the entire show, and it's how do you define compassion?
0:01:51 - (Ariel Choinard): Wow, that is a really tough question. I think for me, compassion is recognizing the humanity of the inherent humanity of everyone we meet and to honor that with love and good attention. Man, will you really? This is a tough one. Yeah, but I think compassion comes from a space of love and empathy, and it's about recognizing everybody's inherent humanity capacity for love and then acting accordingly.
0:02:41 - (Ariel Choinard): So when I think about the work I do on resilience and climate change and heat here in Southern Nevada, it does come from a compassionate place for people who are most impacted now and for future generations as well. So I try to just kind of always do the right thing with that love and that knowledge of our shared humanity in my heart.
0:03:07 - (Will Rucker): Yeah, well, I mean, phenomenal answer. I couldn't have put it any better myself. I think that love piece is critical. You don't often hear that word in this sciency space, but it's so important. And I think that at the end of the day, love is what matters most. Thank you for sharing that. So, for those that are unfamiliar with the area, can you describe some of the specific challenges that southern Nevada, Las Vegas, has due to extreme heat.
0:03:40 - (Ariel Choinard): Great. So I think when most people think of Las Vegas, they probably think of palm trees and the Strip. They probably know it's hot. Southern Nevada is a very hot place. We have a pretty extreme climate. We get cold in the winters. Not as cold as some places, but cold enough, and we get rather hot in the summers. What makes it challenging here is that Las Vegas is the second fastest warming city in America after Reno, Nevada, actually.
0:04:12 - (Will Rucker): Wow. Okay.
0:04:13 - (Ariel Choinard): Yeah. And so due to our already high temperatures, as we start to see more and more impacts from climate change and our summers grow hotter, it just means that our communities are having to deal with ever hotter daytime temperatures, and in particular, hotter nighttime lows. Which means that people, infrastructure, all of the things that make this region a region, we never get a good cooldown, a good break from the heat overnight.
0:04:45 - (Ariel Choinard): The other thing that makes it really challenging to work on heat here is the urban heat island effect, which is a characteristic of the built environment in cities. In fact, most cities are going to have an urban heat island effect here. It happens to be pretty extreme because of how much solar gain we get during the day. So the sun warms up all of our dark, impervious surfaces, whether that's road surfaces, sidewalks, buildings.
0:05:16 - (Ariel Choinard): And that causes certain areas of our city to be hotter than others, sometimes up to eleven degrees hotter than other places, which is a pretty significant yeah, that's a pretty significant difference when you start thinking about the fact that we occasionally have highs of 115 degrees. Add eleven degrees to that, that's pretty stinking hot. And those places, too, cool down less overnight as well. So it is a challenging space to be working on heat.
0:05:48 - (Ariel Choinard): And in the past, too, I think there was kind of an institutional attitude towards heat, which you can still hear from time to time. Or even vegas residents will just kind of be like, well, yeah, duh, it's hot in kind of they miss the kind of problematic aspect of how heat, especially those extreme temperatures, acts as a chronic stressor for so many of the folks who live here. And yes, it is hot in Las Vegas.
0:06:21 - (Ariel Choinard): Everybody is exposed to extreme temperatures, but heat isn't experienced equally. That depends very much on who you are, where you live, what resources you have. So a lot of the people kind of shrug and say, yeah, it's just hot in Las Vegas. They aren't the folks who are necessarily most impacted by our extreme temperatures.
0:06:47 - (Will Rucker): So you said a couple of things that were surprising for me. One is we're second behind Reno. I would not have expected Reno because I typically go kind of January through March ish and it's cold. Sure, that's fastest war. That's amazing. What's the difference. Why is Reno warming faster than Los Angeles?
0:07:11 - (Ariel Choinard): Well, it just has more room to warm if that makes they're okay. We already are so hot that even though we're still warming, that measured sort of difference in temperatures isn't as big as it is in Reno. It's a little bit like how climate scientists say the Arctic is the fastest warming place on earth. Does that kind of make sense? A little explanation. Okay, yeah, it was cooler to begin. So it warms. Yeah. So it's warming, it's more dramatic.
0:07:45 - (Will Rucker): Yeah. Okay, but why? I just would not have expected, I would expect Phoenix or Tucson, something like that. But hey, at least we're first in something here in Nevada, right?
0:07:57 - (Ariel Choinard): Yeah, we're number one.
0:08:00 - (Will Rucker): So how does extreme heat impact different populations? And I'm thinking really like socioeconomic or ethnic or racial, that kind of thing?
0:08:10 - (Ariel Choinard): Yeah, I think unfortunately, and this is true of again, a lot of cities across America that urban heat islands are found primarily in black and brown neighborhoods and this is due to redlining and the type of unwillingness purposeful, unwillingness to resource those communities in the past. And so folks there, maybe their homes are built differently or during a different time period and are not as well insulated.
0:08:41 - (Ariel Choinard): These neighborhoods may not have as many trees. There are a lot of different factors that can contribute to why a heat island is a heat island. But that absolutely tends to be the case that those urban heat island neighborhoods also tend to be socioeconomically disadvantaged as well, which is really hard for residents there if these are lower income areas or just blue collar folks working their jobs. And there are people here in Las Vegas who are choosing between keeping their home comfortable or putting food on the table.
0:09:14 - (Ariel Choinard): So when you think about an urban heat island neighborhood or region in our city and think about the difference in temperature between those neighborhoods and neighborhoods with more trees or more affluent neighborhoods, you can see how that eleven degree difference has a huge impact on people's day to day life.
0:09:35 - (Will Rucker): Yeah, it's part of it just geographic. Like some locations are just higher up than others.
0:09:43 - (Ariel Choinard): That is definitely part of it here in the Vegas Valley. So the west side of town has a little bit of altitude on the east side of town. So being lower in altitude means that typically on the east side it's handful of degrees hotter than it is on the west side. But the urban heat island effect is so dramatic that the difference in altitude doesn't explain the total difference in temperature, if that makes sense.
0:10:09 - (Will Rucker): Yeah, it does. And please continue to try to talk because I interrupted.
0:10:13 - (Ariel Choinard): Oh, that's okay. I was also going to point out too that age has a big impact on how vulnerable people are when it gets really hot. So if you have communities with a lot of senior citizens or even very young people, babies, toddlers, or neighborhoods where people have a higher incidence of chronic illness, like congestive heart failure, COPD, asthma. Those factors can make certain parts of our city more vulnerable to higher temperatures.
0:10:47 - (Ariel Choinard): And RTC, the Regional Transportation Commission did a really wonderful study that was published a couple of summers ago, three summers ago, kind of lost track. Now that took a look at about, gosh, 1314 different variables to kind of visualize spatially where heat vulnerability kind of exists within the metro area here. And a lot of those neighborhoods are found on the East Side.
0:11:16 - (Will Rucker): So this work, I mean, coming into the conversation, I'm like, well, it's fascinating. It's interesting because that's the scientist in me. And then, of course, this is compassionate Las Vegas. So that part of me is starting to rise a bit, and my heart's bleeding in a way. How do you personally manage looking at this data and seeing, oh, my gosh, these people are impacted negatively and it's such a big undertaking?
0:11:44 - (Will Rucker): How do you personally show self compassion and ensure you're resilient in this effort?
0:11:51 - (Ariel Choinard): Yeah, there are some really low moments. I remember feeling pretty low in the beginning of July when we were going into that long period of extreme heat and knowing that even though I'm working on this problem and even though I'm working on this problem with really great partners, it still wasn't enough in that moment. The Southern Nevada Heat Resilience Lab is a brand new project. We got started in spring of this year. This is our first summer.
0:12:26 - (Ariel Choinard): And it takes time to build resilience, and it takes time to do this work well and to do it with the proper types of engagement and information gathering. But it was really hard to think about the stress and the suffering that communities were going to be going through during that period of extremely hot weather. I know that people lose their lives because of heat, and I know that very often these are the same people that are vulnerable in other ways. They may be unhoused, they may be poor.
0:13:07 - (Ariel Choinard): There are other circumstances in their life that I think make it easy for people to look away from them or disregard their suffering. And that can be hard to know as well. So I just try to give myself some space and some grace and know that I'm not doing this alone and to have faith in my in my good partners and the other people who want this region and our city to be livable and resilience and resilient today and into the future.
0:13:53 - (Ariel Choinard): And sometimes I take that heavy feeling and just kind of sit with it. It's a part of the work.
0:14:01 - (Will Rucker): There's so much in what you shared. Just sitting with it, though, that can be difficult. It's something I encourage everyone to do, is to have the full human experience, that full range of emotion, including the ones that are not pleasant so I love hearing that you choose intentionally to sit with it. And then I also love hearing that collaborative aspect because we need each other. The way we've evolved as a species is only because we take care of each other.
0:14:32 - (Will Rucker): And I think that's really powerful.
0:14:35 - (Ariel Choinard): Yeah. And occasionally I'll take that heavy feeling and sort of spin it on its head, and instead of feeling overwhelmed or very sad, sometimes I turn it into being stubborn and I just use it to help me keep going. As it is, heat is a systemic issue. It touches on so many different aspects of our lives. Here in Southern Nevada, if you're going to talk about heat, you end up talking about housing, you end up talking about hunger, about climate, about pollution. I mean, it starts to tie so many different things together, and it can feel like this really big, really snarly, wicked problem.
0:15:27 - (Ariel Choinard): And it is. And it's not until we find those nexuses for collaboration and start to create the conditions for change. Change itself is hard, but what levers can we pull? What conversations can we have? What can we do to create the conditions for change so that we can find those levers and pull on them and create that better future?
0:15:53 - (Will Rucker): When we come back, I want to talk about your mission, which includes co creating. And so I want to hear your take on how you actually engage those that are most impacted by heat and how you do outreach into those communities and all that good stuff right after this.
0:16:11 - (D): Treat others how you'd like to be.
0:16:12 - (Ariel Choinard): Treated, and that's the Golden Rule. Camp Anytown has taught me that knowledge is power, and if I utilize my voice, I can make a difference in the world, no matter how big or small.
0:16:24 - (E): I learned that as long as we.
0:16:26 - (Will Rucker): Stand together, we can accomplish so much more.
0:16:29 - (E): What Camp Anytown has taught me is that I am not crazy to think I can change the world. I'm crazy if I think I can do it alone.
0:16:36 - (Ariel Choinard): Camp Anytown has taught me that just because I'm different does not mean I don't belong.
0:16:40 - (E): I learned at Camp Anytown to be more compassionate because you never know what somebody else is going through.
0:16:48 - (D): Camp Anytown is a no cost youth leadership camp that trains high school students in diversity, community, and inclusivity. When you choose the Golden Rule license plate, you play a part in the local camp that helps shape a better tomorrow. Learn [email protected].
0:17:07 - (Will Rucker): This is compassionate. Las Vegas, the podcast. I'm will rutter. And here today from the Southern Nevada Heat Resilience Lab. I think I got that right this time.
0:17:17 - (Ariel Choinard): You nailed it.
0:17:18 - (Will Rucker): And before the break, we were talking a little bit about how you personally show resilience, and one of the things you mentioned was collaboration. So in your mission, you talk about co creating this resilience, right? How do you engage communities and those that are impacted in your work.
0:17:41 - (Ariel Choinard): I mentioned before that we are a new project so our engagement efforts are just beginning. But what we're trying to do is to better engage the folks who are most impacted by heat. In the past, other planning around heat, other discussions around heat, people might have sent out a survey or like a web survey or a link. An attempt is made at engagement. But what we want to do differently is really to create a space for listening and learning from those who are most impacted and allow the frontland communities to articulate their own priorities around know. Because right now in the Vegas Valley, we have kind of one response to heat events which is opening cooling centers.
0:18:34 - (Ariel Choinard): And this is a good and useful thing, but we're not even sure if cooling centers are utilized by the folks who might need them most. And so what we're doing actually this month on the 30th we're meeting with leaders of community based organizations from those urban Heat Island neighborhoods, representatives of, of the populations that are most impacted by heat for kind of a listening session that will be facilitated by my lovely counterpart, dr. Emma Bloomfield.
0:19:12 - (Ariel Choinard): And then at the end of September, we're going to be holding a community member listening session. So we're going to use the feedback from the community leader listening session to help kind of focus and put some framework around a community member listening session so that we're giving folks confidential that's really important, a confidential space to come and share what their experience with Heat is, what resources they need, where we can do better with engagement.
0:19:49 - (Ariel Choinard): How are people talking about heat in these neighborhoods? How are people talking about heat across Las Vegas? What messages are going to work best for their communities? That's not something we know. There are people who make tons of assumptions about that. We're not making any at this point. Yeah, and I think that's the heart of co creation, putting yourself in that constant learning and listening space so that as we move forward, we're following the direction of the folks who are most impacted by heat.
0:20:29 - (Ariel Choinard): And so further messaging and engagement will be more of a conversation. It'll depend very much on what we hear. So I think that's still a little bit unusual in Heat work. I think some places kind of assume, okay, people need cooling centers and they need trees and neither of those things are bad and both those things might be very appropriate for Las Vegas as well. But until we hear that from the folks who need those resources the most, we're not going to assume that that is the right solution.
0:21:05 - (Will Rucker): Yeah, and I don't know that I thought a lot about heat directly prior to your work and I know that I've personally been hot.
0:21:18 - (Ariel Choinard): Right.
0:21:18 - (Will Rucker): But outside of that, just thinking about the domino impact of heat I think is something that is just newer in my consciousness. So I'm really grateful we're able to have this conversation. And you kind of already answered the question, which was, how are others thinking about heat? And what I heard you say, is that's why you're holding these listening sessions, to figure that out?
0:21:42 - (Ariel Choinard): Yeah, because there are a lot of assumptions about how people think about heat, but we don't know until we ask, what is it like to be an outdoor worker? What is it like to have to wait for public transportation? There are so many different ways that he can impact different people in our community and giving them the space. People are the experts on their own experience giving folks the space to tell us what they need to tell us.
0:22:14 - (Ariel Choinard): Oh, I don't really use cooling centers, but another neighborhood pool would be great. I'm just pulling that out of thin air because we don't know what we're going to hear. And I really want these conversations to be ongoing. I get very excited when I think about listening in this way because I think that's a space where change can emerge, where something new can be heard. So I get very excited about the potential to be a part of creating a habitable. Las Vegas.
0:22:52 - (Will Rucker): Yeah. So let's stick with this excitement, and I want to dive into your imagination. How do you envision a heat adapted southern Nevada, and I guess really a heat adapted Nevada since we've got reno in the zoo?
0:23:06 - (Ariel Choinard): That is such a complicated question because there's so many different aspects to it. When I imagine a heat adapted, we'll just go with the Vegas metro area because that's where my expertise lies. I imagine a much more involved community voice on deciding what adaptation measures are going to be most effective. So that could mean anything from increased tree canopy to built shade structures, pool roofs, solar covering, the parking lots, different types of ground cover as we start to remove turf, which is good because it saves water.
0:23:56 - (Ariel Choinard): But what I'd like to see, too, is like a change in how we build out here. Sometimes I look at houses out here and I just like, what? This doesn't belong in the desert? I guess personally, I envision more desert adapted architecture and building, and I know that we've made leaps and bounds of progress in requiring better insulation, water, smart energy, smart appliances. I think out of necessity, we're going to probably have to change a lot of how we build and how we think about our neighborhoods and how we think about our city centers and all these different things.
0:24:40 - (Ariel Choinard): That is a huge and wild question, and I love it. And I don't know that I can really paint you a good enough picture because I think so much of this is still emerging. But what I'd like to imagine is a Las Vegas that is habitable and comfortable and well adapted to this extreme climate, not just for today, but for 50 years into the future. You look at some of those climate projections and we think it's hot now.
0:25:13 - (Ariel Choinard): Take a look at what it's going to be like 50 years from now. So we need to think not only about what the city looks like today or what Nevada looks like today. We also have to start visioning for those future generations that want to call Nevada home.
0:25:31 - (Will Rucker): Yeah, that's so important. And I love the indigenous tradition of thinking seven generations down, how does what I do today impact that 7th generation? So I love your approach. I think it's so important. One of my models is nothing about us without us. And I feel like that's the spirit of how you're approaching this work. And it's so broad, it's so complex. I mean, you have a life's work ahead of you, for sure with this.
0:26:02 - (Will Rucker): I want to know how you got involved in heat.
0:26:07 - (Ariel Choinard): Well, once upon a time, I worked in agriculture in Colorado, and I started thinking a lot about changing climates and water scarcity and food production and urban areas. My husband and I ended up moving from Colorado to Los Angeles, where those things were even more friend of mine for me. And I ended up getting my master's in urban sustainability while I was out there. And it was just pure chance. I was looking for a capstone project to finish my degree, and I knew I wanted to look at the connection between disaster urban areas and climate change.
0:26:57 - (Ariel Choinard): And my advisor said, hey, I know somebody at the La city Office of Resilience and that sounds really said, you know, feel free to pass my meme along. It'd be great if I heard from them. And I ended up hearing from them and they said, hey, we need somebody to help us with some work around heat. And I was like, wow, that sounds really fascinating. And from day one, I was hooked on the subject matter. So I was lucky enough to work on heat up there in La. And then life threw us another curveball. We ended up out here in Las Vegas, and I'm proud to say I've continued that work here.
0:27:39 - (Ariel Choinard): There are so many different climate impacts that we think about, that we know about, some that we don't, the unknown unknowns. But one of the things that we're absolutely positive is that more people are going to be exposed to extreme temperatures as our climates change. I can't say I realized exactly how deeply relevant heat was going to be when I said yes to that first project, but I'm just so grateful I did. It's just one of those wonderful moments in life where you say yes and you find your passion and you get to keep it going.
0:28:18 - (Ariel Choinard): I know I am very lucky to do work that I find meaningful, that hopefully provides value to the communities that I live in.
0:28:29 - (Will Rucker): Wow. So for someone that is watching or listening to this episode and they're like, you know what? I want to get engaged in this, or I want to know more. What would you share with that person and how would they be able to connect with your work?
0:28:46 - (Ariel Choinard): Well, I would just say, drop me an email. I'm happy to chat. Like, I'll take you out for a cup of coffee. We can mull it over. The other way to get involved is to look for those volunteer opportunities. And there are so many different volunteer opportunities that connect with heat, even if it's volunteering at a food bank. As I spoke about how people choose between cooling and groceries, it could be donating water bottles to homeless resource groups and outreach groups.
0:29:18 - (Ariel Choinard): There are just so many different ways. But I think the most meaningful would be to take a look at your community and find those around you who need that help. I always talk about checking on your neighbors during extreme heat events. But that's really important. And it's that sort of like a spirit of we're all in this together and we need to take care of each other and taking that personal responsibility and finding an opportunity to check in with.
0:29:46 - (Ariel Choinard): Maybe you have older folks in your family or somebody with a couple of young kids, somebody who's reliant on public transportation, somebody who has a medical condition that makes the heat harder to deal with. Elderly neighbor, anybody, everybody check on each know be that voice that says, hey, heat can be dangerous. Don't be one of those people who kind of shrug it off and say, yeah, it's always hot in Las Vegas in the summer. I mean, you're right, but it's also really dangerous.
0:30:13 - (Ariel Choinard): But if folks are interested in pursuing a more academic route towards working with heat, I'm happy to have a conversation with them. I think it just depends on what they would want to focus on, like where they felt compelled to go with that interest.
0:30:31 - (Will Rucker): Yeah, with this, I'm hearing so many pieces of compassion embedded in that because compassion is that drive that causes to say, yeah, we need to fix this. And Karen Armstrong says that a compassionate community is an uncomfortable community. And that's because we have these conversations where we talk about the real issues. The hacker convention was in town recently and let's pretend that they hacked every digital billboard in the city and gave you the keyboard to type a message.
0:31:04 - (Will Rucker): What would that message be?
0:31:06 - (Ariel Choinard): Whoa, I don't know. Nothing. Oh my gosh, okay, what would it be today? Or like, yeah, okay, just be kind. I'm not even going to go with any heat related messaging. Like, if it were a heat wave, I'd probably be like, heat is dangerous, but be kind. Be kind. It's easy to be kind.
0:31:40 - (Will Rucker): Wow. Well, I want to thank you so much for reaching out, for joining the podcast. I'm looking forward to our continued work together on this. And there's so much to do, and your approach and your heart and your energy, it's just something that is so needed in our area. So thank you for being you and for the work that you're doing.
0:32:06 - (Ariel Choinard): That is a beautiful compliment. Thank you so much. You're welcome. It was a delight to be here. I hope we get to do it again.
0:32:13 - (Will Rucker): Yes, we certainly will. This has been compassionate. Las Vegas. The podcast. I'm will rucker. And as I always remind you, you are not just a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop. And what you do matters. So live compassionate, Italy, and be kind. See you on the next episode.