The University of Arizona

Workshop Background Readings | CLIMAS

Workshop Background Readings

Background Reading on Climate and Vulnerability

Overview of Southwest Climate Change Issues
Regional Highlights from Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. An overview of some of the critical climate change issues facing the Southwest including water scarcity, changes in agriculture, and economic challenges.

The Climate Gap Study
 “The climate gap means that climate change will more seriously affect the health of communities that are least likely to cope with, resist, and recover from the impacts of extreme weather events and potential increases in air pollution compared to the rest of the population" (Knowlton et al. 2004 as cited in Climate Gap: 25)

The Climate Gap refers to “the disproportionate and unequal impact the climate crisis has on people of color and the poor” (Climate Gap: 5). This study uses available data and literature to analyze the disparate impacts of climate change and climate change mitigation policies on certain populations, particularly those of low socioeconomic status. It concludes that while all Americans are/will be affected by climate change, it will weigh disproportionately on people of color and the poor. These groups are more likely to suffer from, and lack resources to cope with, heat waves and heat island effects; dirtier air from urban growth and higher temperatures; increased food, water, and energy costs; reduced jobs in sectors such as agriculture and tourism; and property damage/homelessness resulting from extreme weather and/or lack of insurance. 

The study concludes with a list of suggestions for “how to close the climate gap,” including: equitable climate policies; placing emission caps in areas with dirtiest air; focus planning and intervention in minority/poor neighborhoods; anticipate and buffer disproportionate impacts; and integrate community/local knowledge and participation. 

Neighborhood Microclimates and Vulnerability to Heat Stress in Phoenix, AZ
This study evaluates “heat-related health inequalities” in 8 different city neighborhoods in Phoenix, AZ during a heat wave in 2003. The study concludes that neighborhoods with low socioeconomic levels and high ethnic minority populations were more likely to live in warmer neighborhoods and be exposed to situations of “heat stress.” High urban density, sparse vegetation and limited open space contribute to higher temperatures (or “heat islands”) in certain neighborhoods, demonstrating that temperatures are much more site-specific than city-wide temperatures indicate.. Moreover, the study finds that residents in the most heat-stressed neighborhoods have inferior resources to cope with extreme heat (p.2856). Factors contributing to the social vulnerability of these neighborhoods include: poverty; lack of community ties/networks; and limited access to air conditioning, pools and green environments. 

Katrina, Feminism, and Environmental Justice
This study evaluates agents, exposure, and vulnerability and their “distributional effects” of the New Orleans floods caused by Hurricane Katrina. The study is informed by environmental justice and feminism studies. Verchick (2008) calculates environmental harm as the combination of a harmful agent (such as toxins or racism), exposure, and vulnerability. In the discussion of agents, Verchick identifies both the hurricane and the faulty levee system. The impacts of exposure and vulnerability (i.e. loss of house, jobs, lack of transportation, etc.) “were borne disproportionately by people of color, the poor, and women...Katrina showed that environmental disasters follow both demographic and geographic patterns.” (p.3). “The storm and the levee failures lumped greater harms on the poor, people of color, and many women, because as a group they were more vulnerable. Such vulnerability was determined by lack of money, lack of transportation, and in some cases less physical robustness” (4).

Advancing Climate Justice: Transforming the Economy, Public Health & Our Environment
On January 29‐30, 2009, WE ACT for Environmental Justice held a conference at Fordham University in New York City. The report provides an overview of the key issues discussed at the conference and recommendations on how to secure climate justice in communities of color and low income.

WE ACT for Environmental Justice
WE ACT for Environmental Justice is a Northern Manhattan community-based organization whose mission is to build healthy communities by assuring that people of color and/or low-income participate meaningfully in the creation of sound and fair environmental health and protection policies and practices. WE ACT is working to achieve this mission by accomplishing a set of clear Goals linked to our 8 indicators of a healthy community: Clean air; Affordable, equitable transit; Reducing waste, pests and pesticides; toxic free products; Good food in schools; Sustainable land use; Open & green space; and Healthy indoor environments.

The Climate Justice Research Project
The Climate Justice Research Project at Dartmouth College looks at the intersection of climate change, economic disparities and development pathways.