This investigation was conducted by Columbia Journalism Investigations and the Center for Public Integrity and copublished in partnership with The Guardian. It was republished here as part of Covering Climate Now.
PHOENIX — Charlie Rhodes lived alone on a tree-sparse street with sunburned lawns just outside this Arizona city. At 61, the Army veteran’s main connection to the world was Facebook; often, he posted several times a day. But as a heat wave blanketed the region in June 2016 — raising temperatures among the highest ever recorded — his posts stopped. Three weeks later, a pile of unopened mail outside his door prompted a call to police.
When officers arrived, they were overcome by the odor of rotting garbage, worsened by the still-searing heat. Inside the home, they found the air conditioner broken and its thermometer reading 99 degrees. Rhodes lay dead in the bedroom, his body decomposing. The cause, his autopsy shows: “complications of environmental heat exposure.”
Yearly heat-related deaths have more than doubled in Arizona in the last decade to 283. Across the country, heat caused at least 10,000 deaths between 1999 and 2016 — more than hurricanes,... Read more