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Not Everyone Is Feeling the Heat the Same Way in China

Lower-income workers with no choice but to face extreme temperatures outdoors are being impacted the most by global warming.

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The (Bloomberg) Dang Jianbin, 48, is going through dozens of packages outside an office building close to Beijing’s second ring road under the hot heat in 33 degree Celsius. He still hasn’t had breakfast even though it is already lunchtime. Dang’s only option on such a scorching day is to send all the gifts to their recipients ahead of schedule and take a nap in the shade.

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Dang, a delivery man for one of China’s biggest courier services, which he claimed he could not name without permission, stated, “I have no better options than working in the heat.” “I need to support my parents and my kids, so I have to make a life doing this.”

Unprecedented heat is being felt in many countries around the world, including China. Numerous people have died as a result of the nation’s 900 million residents being subjected to oppressive heat during the previous month. For extremely hot weather, the government has issued red alert warnings and advised citizens to stay indoors. But long-distance outdoor workers like Dang must choose between their health and survival, illustrating the growing climate disparity that has put the most vulnerable communities at risk.

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China’s National Climate Center reports that from June to mid-July, the country as a whole had 5.3 days with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), which is the most days of this kind in a single month since 1961. The greatest temperature ever has been recorded at 71 national weather stations since June. Xi’an, a city in northwest China, had 20 days in June with temperatures above 35 degrees, while Shanghai’s temperature last week of 40.9 degrees was also a record high.

A construction worker in Xi’an passed away from heat stroke this month after spending nine hours working in the hot, muggy conditions. The man did not sign a contract with the building company, therefore the family was first denied financial compensation following the occurrence. But last week, it was reported that the family stated the business will pay for the funeral and provide some compensation in response to a nationwide outrage on social media and in media coverage. Because of global warming, there will be more frequent, strong heat waves, which has sparked discussion about how to protect workers in high-temperature situations in Chinese news outlets and on social media.

Despite the fact that China issued a guideline ten years ago on how to regulate working conditions in hot weather, such as restricting outdoor work hours and raising wages, the regulation’s actual execution is not subject to inspection. Last Monday, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Daily, asked specific government agencies to strengthen their inspection job “so that the regulations would not become something that exists only on paper.”

The publication stated that rules “should have ‘teeth’ and be able to compel the corporations to meet their duties” in order to protect workers working in extreme temperatures.

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A request for comment was not answered by the Ministry of Emergency Management, which is in charge of developing policy for dealing with extreme weather.

According to Li Zhao, a researcher for Greenpeace East Asia, extreme weather phenomena like heat waves show how inequality is a major problem in terms of climate change. According to Oxfam’s 2020 research, the socially and economically disadvantaged groups suffer the brunt of climate change and other environmental dangers even if the world’s richest 1% of the population are responsible for more than twice as much emissions as the 3.1 billion poorest people.

White-collar professionals who work in air-conditioned offices are only briefly exposed to high temperatures when traveling to and from work, according to Li. However, not everyone has the luxury of having a cooling system in their home and working space.

On such scorching days, Dang’s employer pays a little bit more for each item he delivers. He typically receives 1.3 yuan (19 U.S. cents) per shipment, but as of last week, he is now paid 1.5 yuan.

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Not everyone receives reimbursement, even in this tiny amount. One of China’s largest online food ordering platforms doesn’t pay more on hot days, according to Chen Limei, a 35-year-old courier for the company. At least ten hours a day must be put in by Chen, who works primarily outside on a scooter. She covers every inch of her body to protect it from sunburn.

I don’t like it, but what can I do? If I leave, there are plenty of people who are willing to take over,” said Chen as he frantically called the numbers on the food packages to deliver them in time for the deadline established by the online purchasing system.

According to Greenpeace’s Li, the government may enhance its high-temperature alert system by integrating a humidity index in addition to better executing rules that protect employees’ rights on hot days. Currently, China’s warning system only considers temperature, although humidity plays a significant role in determining the effects on people’s health and wellbeing. Li argued that the government should create public green areas that are open to everybody in order to aid cities in better coping with climate change, paying particular attention to the needs of vulnerable groups.

Low-income communities reside in locations with significantly less green space and a higher population density, thus she argued that city planners should allow enough green spaces for everyone to use when they need to cool off.

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