Awareness of equitable climate resiliency in underserved communities

As the need for climate resiliency continues to increase there is a need to acknowledge the disparities and inequities that underserved communities face.

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Michigan State University Extension recognizes that as the need for climate resiliency continues to increase, there is a need to acknowledge the disparities and inequities that underserved communities face. Due to these inequities when natural disasters or climate issues such as heatwaves occur, these communities are more likely to have a difficult recovery time and experience longer duration of these impacts. Climate issues can include poor air quality, extreme temperatures, flooding and other impacts. The earth’s climate is expected to become more extreme and communities must begin to create equitable resilient resources for underserved residents. 

Health and climate

This concept of inequity in climate resiliency is prevalent on a global level and communities of color that are in poverty do not have adequate resources to respond or prepare and therefore are amongst the most vulnerable. According to the publication “Climate Change, Health, and Equity: A Guide for Local Health Departments” by the American Public Health Association, communities of color are more likely to suffer the impacts of climate change for a longer period with harsher outcomes due to having poor living conditions and pre-existing health conditions.

A report was conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to demonstrate the disproportionate impacts of climate change for vulnerable communities, which revealed six impacted categories: air quality and health; extreme temperature and health; extreme temperature and labor; coastal flooding and traffic; coastal flooding and poverty; and inland flooding and property. The EPA also breaks this data down by race in a one-page summary report showing risk of climate change to Black and African American individuals, finding that Black residents are more likely to live in areas with the “highest increases in childhood asthma diagnoses from climate driven changes.”

Extreme impacts

Climate change has made communities aware of the racial undertones that have been present. The National Weather Service states that “heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States.” Climate resiliency is not a new concept, the 1995 Heat Wave in Chicago is an example where nearly 700 deaths occurred in less than a week due to extreme temperatures and underserved residents not having resources to respond to those conditions. Underserved communities may have less tree canopy overhead and fewer homes with air conditioning in the summer months, which can continue to contribute to negative outcomes as both aspects assist with cooling.

What can be done

Local leaders and government officials have the ability to combat the inequity of climate resilience in their community by acknowledging that this is an issue for every municipality and collaborating for solutions. Starting points could include:

  • Looking at census data to determine who are their underserved residents; EPA suggests four socially vulnerable populations based on income, educational attainment, race and ethnicity and age.
  • Determining pre-existing health conditions, why are they prevalent, and exploring resources and funding that can alleviate that. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services created MiTracking for data related to the environment, health, and population.
  • Planners can look at land use and floodplain maps to determine if underserved residents are in or near a floodplain, then determine if tree canopy, sewer improvements, or other mitigation measures can be established.

Ultimately, starting to have these conversations within local municipalities and coming up with actionable solutions can begin to combat climate resilience inequity for underserved communities.

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