Adaptive capacity to extreme urban heat: The dynamics of differing narratives

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10 Scopus citations


Extreme heat does not affect all urban residents equally. While vulnerability is often defined as a combination of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity, many scholars have argued that the quantitative representation of adaptive capacity is particularly difficult. How people who live in vulnerable situations change their behavior to cope with and manage extreme urban temperatures, and the resources necessary to prevent adverse health effects, highlight different adaptive capacity within a city. Our understanding and depiction of how and why the impacts of urban heat vary between individuals and groups is constrained by contemporary approaches to quantify vulnerability using aggregate-scale data drawn from censuses, surveys, and administrative records. Thus, adaptive capacity is likely poorly represented in modern heat vulnerability analyses and their applications. This article explores how different city residents understand and adapt to increasing extreme urban heat, the tradeoffs different populations must make between generic and specific adaptive capacity, and the coping strategies that influence heat adaptive capacity at various scales. Using metropolitan Phoenix as a test site, open-ended interviews were conducted in which residents told their stories about past and present extreme heat adaptive capacity and adaptive behaviors. Three narratives emerged: heat is an inconvenience, heat is a manageable problem, and heat is a catastrophe. Framing heat vulnerability using these differing narratives can help evaluate if standard recommendations for coping with heat adequately represent solutions for the lived experiences of different vulnerable groups. Learning how and under what circumstances vulnerable people are motivated to make necessary changes to increase thermal comfort and safeguard public health will ensure that targeted heat mitigation and adaptation policies are widely adopted. Heat adaptation and mitigation policy makers need to be cognizant of the gap in heat risk perception across different segments of the population and reflect on whether those decisions reflect their experience (of likely belonging to the inconvenience group) or incorporate differing scales of heat adaptive capacity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number100415
JournalClimate Risk Management
StatePublished - Jan 2022


  • Adaptive capacity
  • Extreme heat
  • Narratives
  • Resilience
  • Risk governance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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