Protecting Communities from Climate Change (Hint: It’s not Just About Seawalls)


| 5/9/2016 1:48:00 PM


Tags: climate change, environment,

Little Village
Youth Summit in Little Village, Chicago

Climate change is here, and it is already affecting our health and wellbeing. That’s the conclusion of the National Climate and Health Assessment, released in April by the prestigious U.S. Global Change Research Program. Fortunately, it is possible to make even our most vulnerable communities more climate-resilient. In fact, it’s already happening—but not in the way you might expect.

To make our communities more resilient, we first have to understand the threats we face, and the factors that make us vulnerable. The National Climate and Health Assessment details a litany of threats: heat waves; poorer air quality; food and water shortages; and mental stress. The Assessment also shows that, while climate change affects us all, some are more vulnerable than others.

Of course, geography and weather patterns determine our communities’ exposure to risk. But social factors shape our vulnerability, and our ability to bounce back after disaster.

Children and the elderly are among the most vulnerable to climate-change impacts, as are the one in four Americans who live in high-poverty areas. As we saw during Katrina, communities of color are often hit hard, as are immigrants, Indigenous peoples, and those with limited English. And anyone with an existing health condition—heart disease, asthma, diabetes—is especially at risk.

Climate change takes its greatest toll in low-income neighborhoods that concentrate many kinds of vulnerability. These neighborhoods are dealing with multiple challenges: poverty, unemployment, failing schools, crime, crumbling infrastructure and poor quality housing. Many also face environmental problems like lead-tainted water, polluted air, and contaminated soil. And too often, these neighborhoods lack clinics and grocery stores, much less trees and parks.