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Mayor in South Carolina discusses efforts to help people cope with intense heat

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Across the country - and, in fact, the world - people have been battling extreme heat. It's been going on for weeks. But as heat waves become more frequent, some state and local leaders are working together to learn more about what they can do to address these climate impacts and help their residents cope. Daniel Rickenmann is the mayor of South Carolina's capital city, Columbia, and he's a member of the Smart Surfaces Coalition. That's a group that provides guidance and resources in the fight against the climate crisis. And he's here with us now to tell us more about what he and the other leaders are working on. Good morning, Mr. Mayor. Thanks for joining us.

DANIEL RICKENMANN: Good morning, Michel. Thank you.

MARTIN: Columbia is known, at least by the tourism folks, as the real Southern hot spot, which is cute. But researchers at the university have been studying weather and climate patterns. Can you tell us just a little bit about what they found out?

RICKENMANN: Yes. No, we had a great opportunity last year to participate in a study here in injunction with the university, and they took a study area of about 188 square miles and looked at about 71,000-plus different measurement points. And, you know, we had an 18-degree differential, you know, between all the readings throughout the day with a maximum temperature of a little over 100 consistently. And so we've seen that increase. We've always been called famously hot, but the increase is really become extreme, and it's having effect all the way around for health reasons, especially. You know, you add that to the frequent change in the climate that we know is happening 'cause we have different seasons than we used to. We don't have four seasons anymore here. And along with the increase of storms that we're having, we're seeing a lot more 50-year, 100-year and thousand-year flood events.

MARTIN: Wow.

RICKENMANN: So clearly, you know, it's time for us all to get around the table and work together to come up with ways to reduce not only the increased heat and decrease the flooding, because the effects of mold air quality is really affecting all aspects of our community.

MARTIN: What are some of the things that the Smart Surfaces Coalition can help you do?

RICKENMANN: You know, it's really - what's great about it is because they have all these tools that - where they can help us, you know, not only do cost-based analysis, you know, and really, the developing the talking points, bringing in the different types of experts to sit down and work with our staffs and assess, you know, the analysis part, which is the biggest piece, is looking at everything from buildings to surface. What could we be doing to create a better atmosphere? But it's also made us be very conscious about what's out there. You know, one of our challenges - and I think most of the studies show that a lot of our lower-income neighborhoods have less tree canopies, have less energy-efficient homes, you know, plagued with empty asphalt parking lots. And so working with them to identify and working with landlords, I think one of our biggest challenges in a lot of those neighborhoods, especially when it comes around, is we got to work with our federal partners to work at HUD when HUD funds projects that they require more tree canopy, more landscape. It's very bare minimum...

MARTIN: Sure.

RICKENMANN: ...And I think we're paying the price for it today.

MARTIN: Just as briefly as you can, the mayor's office is nonpartisan, but you're a Republican. Are you still facing climate skepticism, and is that something you have to overcome? As quickly as you can.

RICKENMANN: Well, I think you do with some people. You always have folks that they're there, but to be quite honest, I mean, we're in a state that's filled with hunter and fisherman. And guess what? They're the most environmentally friendly folks there is. They're very conscious of their environment. And so it's how you talk to people. I had coined a phrase a year ago, the new green is hunter orange, because that's...

MARTIN: OK.

RICKENMANN: ...How you engage people.

MARTIN: All right. That is the mayor of Columbia, S.C., Daniel Rickenmann. Mr. Mayor, thanks so much.

RICKENMANN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
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