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How Our Approach to Climate Change Impacts Climate Inequality

Updated: Oct 26, 2020

By Alba Uriarte

Image via Markus Spiske / Unsplash

Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico without power, air conditioning, or aid. Millions were affected by hurricanes, such as Joey Ramos, pictured above. He found himself in a flooded home that he could only exit by paddling an abandoned refrigerator as a gondola, and had to stay there to protect his home from looters.

Most generations grew up seeing climate change as a thing of the future, but not Gen-Z. For us, the pending threat of climate change is a striking reality that inches closer every day. Currently, our communities rely on repairing the damages caused by climate change to tackle this issue. But this response, known as repairative climate action, often fails low income neighborhoods and fuels climate inequality. The United Nations’ department of economic and social affairs explains this phenomenon by breaking it down into three steps.

First, disadvantaged neighborhoods are disproportionately exposed to the effects of climate change. For example, affordable housing in Miami does not require air conditioning, so the people that reside in these households are more vulnerable to heat stroke in the event of a heat wave. Whether it’s because they’re located in areas susceptible to flooding or because they lack the funds for technology like air conditioning or back up generators, low income communities are considerably more vulnerable to climate hazards.

Secondly, these neighborhoods often lack both the personal and public resources they need to come back from climate disasters. Low income households have less personal resources, such as insurance and savings, to recover from climate hazards. They also receive significantly less public resources provided by the government. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, low income neighborhoods in New Orleans suffered the worst damage, but received less public recovery efforts than wealthier neighborhoods. In order to recover from these natural disasters, these families have to use up a larger chunk of their assets than others do.

Finally, the costs of recovering from climate hazards leave low-income families more disadvantaged than they were before, restarting this vicious cycle of inequality. Unfortunately, in the United States low income neighborhoods are still primarily Black and Hispanic, so in addition to increasing income inequality, this cycle increases systemic racism in America. We have to change our approach to tackling climate change in order to ensure that climate inequality does not become a major issue in Gen-Z’s future. Instead of taking reformative climate action, we need to start taking mitigative climate action. Mitigative climate action is when we take precautions in order to prevent climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By tackling climate change at its root, we can prevent the climate hazards that perpetuate climate inequality and break this cycle.

So how can you help reduce climate inequality? Start with your local governments. You can make a petition to incorporate clean energy in affordable housing, or pressure your city to encourage people to compost food scraps rather than throw them into landfills. Next, make sure you don’t miss your state’s deadline to register to vote. Take your climate activism to the voting polls in November. There are 470 seats in congress and eleven seats for governor up for election along with the Presidential election on November 3rd. If climate change is important to you, ensure that it's important to your representatives too. And finally, continue to educate yourself and those around you about the effects of climate change and the changes you can make to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

Written by writer Alba Uriarte

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