Community Vulnerability To Climate Change

12 December 2013

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By Sarah Schmitt, Administrative and Climate Change Intern

Greenhouse gases exist in the atmosphere causing a natural greenhouse effect responsible for warming the planet to a temperature conducive to human survival. The natural greenhouse effect is enhanced by increased amounts of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to human activities such as the combustion of fossil fuels. The enhanced greenhouse effect is much larger than the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect resulting in a rise in average global temperature and changing weather patterns that are adversely affecting the Earth’s ecosystems and human life.

Anthropogenic enhancement of the atmosphere’s natural greenhouse effect is the reason why 97% of climate experts agree that climate change is caused by humans. It is true that on a geologic time scale Earth’s climate has changed abruptly with no human contribution, however; we cannot deny the fact that we are releasing an exorbitant amount of gases into the atmosphere resulting in a changing climate. Carbon dioxide emissions have hit a record high this past year. It has been a global goal to reduce emissions so that the Earth’s average global temperature will not increase more than 2 degrees Celsius. To put this in perspective, a 2 degree Celsius drop in average global temperature resulted in The Little Ice Age. According to NASA, it has already increased by 0.8 degrees Celsius since 1880, two-thirds of which has occurred since 1975.

It is clear that global warming will have disastrous implications for the climate we have adapted to and people will be affected in many ways. We must start caring about climate change and incorporating mitigation and adaption efforts into every sector because it is impacting the health of our communities. Air quality is decreasing resulting in an increase in allergies, respiratory problems and the aggravation of existing respiratory conditions. Increasing temperatures will lead to an increase in heat-related illnesses. Cities will be greatly impacted by temperature increases because they are warmer than rural areas. Water-borne, food-borne and vector-borne illnesses are also expected to increase, due to an increase in temperature and an increase in rainfall. Every community will be affected differently depending on location, exposure, preparedness, and individual health.

Climate change is not a burden that we all share equally. Many communities are impacted more heavily and it is usually those that do not have the resources to protect themselves. Low-income and communities of color are being affected the most. A challenge that we are facing is how to ensure that communities disproportionately impacted by climate change will benefit from climate change mitigation efforts. Point source pollution must be reduced in vulnerable communities, but may not be because the market-based system of cap-and-trade permits “clean” companies to sell their GHG emissions to “dirty” companies allowing for the continuation of pollution in the most polluted communities. If these communities are not benefitting from market-based initiatives then an investment in their climate change resiliency should be made in proportion to the impacts they feel. Investments can be used towards alternate and renewable energy, cleaner transportation, building efficiency, and climate emergency response efforts.  It is only fair that they have the funds necessary to make their communities clean, healthy, and resilient to climate change.

My background in climate change is the education that I received at UC Santa Cruz. It has been an amazing experience to utilize my education here at CFJC in an environment that addresses the climate change issues and concerns of people in my community and across the nation. Recently, I have been talking with CFJC partners and other organizations in the community about the climate change work that they are doing. It is comforting to know that there are people in my community fighting for climate and health equity in a variety of ways. It is important to me that the communities disproportionately affected by climate change have representation.

Community Vulnerability to Climate Change, S. Schmitt, 12 12 13

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