Why do heat waves, which annually cause far more death, on average, than any other natural disaster, provoke little public reaction? Heat waves will become more common place and heat wave deaths more frequent as temperatures increase from climate change. Models predict that annual heat wave deaths in the U.S. by 2050 will easily surpass the death toll from Hurricane Katrina. This Article analyzes extensive data about heat waves, evaluates why heat waves seem not to raise widespread public concern and suggests that mechanisms already exist -- though widely ignored -- to mitigate the worst effects of excess heat. These mechanisms include careful emergency planning, the provision of air conditioning availability and funding, and larger structural changes in the delivery of electricity, energy efficiency and land use planning. Yet the nature of the victims of heat waves combined with cognitive mechanisms that cause individuals to systematically underestimate risk from heat waves and the fact that heat waves cause little property damage all contribute to a failure by many jurisdictions to adopt policies and programs that can mitigate heat wave deaths.
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