The politics of thermal energy and labor inequality

  ”When we walked into the shade of fruit and palm trees on a hot day, and found ourselves in the midst of a group of well-designed and decorated houses . … Visions seem to come true in an instant.”
  ”Your heart is pounding wildly, trying to keep your blood vessels full, but not enough blood and oxygen to reach your brain… As your internal organs melt and disintegrate, purple spots appear on your skin. , which became the only visible evidence of the imminent destruction of the body.”
  These are two passages about “hot weather”. The first paragraph comes from the anthropologist Malinowski’s “The Voyagers in the Western Pacific”. In the book, “hot” is a background board full of exotic flavors, indicating that the author has set foot on a village with peculiar scenery. The second paragraph comes from travel writer Amy Ragsdale’s vivid description of heat stroke, reminding us that heat can be a very painful experience.
  As global warming intensifies, summer is no longer a pleasant sunny beach, but more associated with terrible heat. This year, The Union of Concerned Scientists (founded in 1969, a non-profit NGO of more than 100,000 scientists worldwide) went so far as to argue that to help people better grasp the threat of summer , it’s time to rename it “Season of Jeopardy”. In recent years, news of high temperature death and forest fires have appeared frequently around the world. In Europe, from July 10 to 16 this year, at least 510 people died in Spain due to high temperature. On July 15, the UK Met Office also issued a red warning for unusually high temperatures. Also in July of this year, many workers in Shaanxi, Lishui and other places unfortunately died of heat stroke (that is, severe heatstroke, with a mortality rate of 70% to 80%). The death of heatstroke caused a new round of attention on social networks.
  Judging from deaths around the world, the main targets of heat stroke are usually long-term outdoor workers, such as construction workers and courier sorters, who work in places without shelter and return home without air conditioning , it is not difficult to see that the impact of extreme weather on the population is unequal. In addition to the direct harm to the body, high temperature will also have different effects on labor productivity and job opportunities for different groups of people.
  When summer has faded away from the beautiful imagination, we must take a more serious look at the inequality caused by heat. How did it arise and how was it concealed? And, why are there endless reports about the high temperature in summer, but they always fail to attract enough attention?
Inequality in high temperature and the concealment of “hot”

  While everyone feels the heat in the summer, it is clear that it is often the lower classes who are exposed to the heat more often. An urban study of Los Angeles, North America found strong correlations between the built environment, socioeconomic vulnerability, and heat-related deaths, with communities of color and low-income populations disproportionately affected by heat island risk factors, while Immigrant workers are three times more likely to die from heatwaves than U.S. citizens.
  A powerful example is the use of air conditioners. Wealthy households consume a lot of energy to keep them running, or drive to summer resorts, but the global warming caused by carbon emissions is borne by poor communities, who cannot live in them even with air conditioners. Burdened with high electricity costs, they have nowhere else to go but stay home or work a sweat outside. If smokers and those forced to smoke secondhand smoke have health risks, workers forced to endure high temperatures put all the risks on themselves.

  Against this background of heat and inequality, several “invisibility” inherent in extreme heat disasters exacerbate the isolation and helplessness of victims. The first is the peculiarity of the climate. Heat waves are slow and silent, and it is difficult to bring a lot of property damage or eye-catching sights, and the erosion of the human body is not obvious. Therefore, even heat-related diseases take lives every year. More than earthquakes and floods, they also struggle to capture the public’s attention.
  In his book “Heat Wave”, which analyzed the 1995 Chicago high temperature that killed more than 700 people, author Eric Krinaberg found that compared with the “9.11” event and Hurricane Katrina, this heat wave was more The U.S. ranks very low in disasters, with many denying the link between weather and mass deaths, arguing that such a high death rate must have been fabricated, and city officials even questioned: “Maybe those people were already on the brink of death, Has nothing to do with the heat wave?”

  When summer has faded away from the beautiful imagination, we must take a more serious look at the inequality caused by heat. How did it arise and how was it concealed? And, why are there endless reports about the high temperature in summer, but they always fail to attract enough attention?

  Such suspicions are unfounded, but they also point to the fact that victims are unable to arouse enough attention because of their low social status. Most of the victims of this heat wave were poor elderly people living alone at home. They lacked communication with friends, family members, and a formal support system, and faced social exclusion and “complete isolation” from neighbors. At this time, even a frequent friend could save someone from the deadly heat.
  That’s how an elderly woman named Paulina survived, with a cheerful personality who likes to call live TV talk shows from home, discuss political scandals and local issues, and keep in touch with two close friends to keep each other up. One day, when she was too hot to breathe, she called her friend as fast as she could, “I told my friend not to hang up, but I put the phone down and lay down.” After a few minutes, she slowly I regained my strength and thanked my friends for being there.
  In contrast, Shaanxi worker Wang Jianlu, who died of heat stroke in July this year, fell silently and silently on his way home from work and never woke up again. In the report of “Freezing Point Weekly”, the last call Wang Jianlu received during his lifetime was from the foreman, who asked him if he could go to work the next day. On the sixth day after his death, the co-workers learned of his death. In addition to heat stroke, heat waves can cause other, more subtle, chronic diseases, such as asthma and kidney disease. During fieldwork in Nicaragua, medical anthropologist Alex Nading found that many sugarcane harvesters suffered from an unconventional cause of chronic kidney disease.

  Since the 1990s, they have speculated that pesticides are the cause, and have even launched workers’ organizations to fight against “poisoning” their employers. It was only in 2005 that studies showed that the disease was closely related to long-term heat exposure. The long working hours of harvesting sugar cane, the workers did not have time to drink water or rest, and the kidneys developed lesions in a state of dehydration. However, because this connection is not obvious, plantation companies have always had reason to ignore the deteriorating physical condition of workers, and also greatly blur the boundaries of workers’ rights.
  Nadine believes that because of past experience, people have difficulty linking hot weather and deadly killings, which makes “heat waves” both a global phenomenon and seemingly good at stealth, elusive, and disproportionately hurt. low-level workers. Nadine also reminds us that this hidden inequality shows that humanity is glimpsed into a new “thermal necropolitics”, and that each extreme climate event must be seen in time as a new round of counterattacks. battlefield.
Cultural event or health crisis? a deep split

  Following a climate-related accident, accountability is another thorny issue. In “Heatwave,” Krinaberg finds the legacy of the event difficult to trace, with community leaders in some places arguing that the mayor failed to recognize the danger in time, while city officials argue that the event is simply a demonstration of how human beings in nature Vulnerability in front of them, they also criticized the media for not giving enough warning, or simply blaming victims for “die of their own negligence”.
  In the end, there is no “principal responsible person” at all, forcing Krinaberg to focus instead on the overall social fact, to observe how the inner workings of the city are revealed through this event .
  Similarly, with the frequent occurrence of heat stroke in China in recent years, it is not easy to determine how to be held accountable. According to the “Administrative Measures for Heatstroke Prevention and Cooling Measures”, the employer is the main body responsible for heatstroke prevention and cooling, but it is difficult to implement the provisions that “the daily maximum temperature reaches 40 ℃ or more, and outdoor open-air operations should be stopped on that day”. What happens to workers still largely depends on the willingness of employers to provide water, shade and breaks. What is even more sad is that during the epidemic, both employers and workers are more adhering to the principle of “do as much as you can”.
  It also takes our discussion to the next level: heatwave deaths are both a cultural event and a public health crisis, and it is the artificial divide and grey area between the two that becomes a venue for blaming each other, and Workers, takeaways and homeless paid the price with their lives. As Bruno Latour mentioned in “We Were Never Modern”, the boundaries between biological environment and society are clearly chaotic, but it is strange that “news headlines like economics, science, literature continue to Each in its place… The analyst puts knowledge about things on the left and power and politics on the right.”
  Going back to the two quotations at the beginning of this article, we will also find that “hot” appears either in cultural interpretations, showing what we are accustomed to as a mild summer, or in appalling climate news, accompanied by climate scientists A distressing call, and the two narratives often do not overlap.
  Therefore, even if climate change has caused irreversible damage to the earth, it is difficult for people to have a strong sense of reality. After all, the person who lost his life is not himself, and the natural environment, as “thing in itself”, is not directly related to daily life. relationship occurs. As surface temperatures and associated diseases become more visible, the danger of a heat wave will one day spread to many more people than just hide in the news.