Why climate change hits some communities harder than others

Gov. Andy Beshear told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on Tuesday that the water “washes some people miles away from where they are” and that it “will take weeks for everyone to be held accountable” “.

However, the floods revealed a wider truth: Low-income communities and communities of color bear the brunt of the climate crisis.

Dirk Arndt, director of climate science and services at NOAA’s National Center for Environmental Information, recently highlighted the uneven effects of climate change.

“There are a lot of images this week of people being rescued from high water. I’ve worked in emergencies (management) for 10 years and it’s a fact: they never pull people out of their homes in wealthy communities. Once you see it, you won’t be seen” Arndt tweeted last Thursday.
“In the context of our changing climate, large weather, particularly flash floods, aggressively target vulnerable and under-informed people,” he added.

Sixteen Kentucky deaths occurred in Knott County, according to the governor’s office on Monday. Seven people were killed in Breathitt County, two in Clay County, two in Letcher County and three in Perry County.

These five counties are among the poorest in the country, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.

“The reality is that when the creek gushed out on its banks, they almost always found people who were already living on the fringes, whether those were people in manufactured or mobile homes, or those living in the floodplain. The people in the house,” Arndt told CNN. “We saw it last week in eastern Kentucky. We saw it in our hometown of western North Carolina last summer.”

It’s a relentless theme, experts say: Flash floods in particular have hit already vulnerable communities hard. To help combat climate-related disasters, we must treat disaster mitigation as a long-term goal, not a short-term one.

Growth pushes disadvantaged groups to the edge

Samantha Montano, assistant professor of emergency management at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy and author of the 2021 book, said the climate crisis is hitting some communities harder than others for several reasons.Disaster Science: Messages from the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis. “

On the one hand, over the course of decades, low-income communities and communities of color have built themselves up in places that are more vulnerable to extreme weather events.

“As cities expand, certain groups are often pushed into swamps, bays or other high-risk areas,” Montano told CNN.

Infrastructure also played a role. Low-income communities tend to have far less infrastructure investment, which in turn becomes more vulnerable.

“So, when there is Yes When heavy rains or other disasters strike, infrastructure cannot withstand these impacts as much as newer infrastructure in wealthier communities,” Montano continued.

A resident in Flagstaff, Arizona, works to protect his home from floodwaters that turned a dead end into a small lake on July 27, 2022.

Other issues of social vulnerability are also important. Wealthy people have the money to build houses using higher standards of building materials and building codes. In addition, wealthier people have more money available to mitigate harm.

“Think of the infamous example California Celebrities Hire Private Firefighters“They were better able to protect themselves when these dangers occurred.”

Njoki Mwarumba, assistant professor of emergency management and preparedness at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, echoed some of Montano’s points.

“One thing that’s been misunderstood and not getting the attention it needs is that people don’t wake up and decide to be vulnerable,” Mwaremba told CNN. “Often, when we try to address people in our communities from a vulnerable point of view, we miss those production That loophole. “

Miseducation, Historical Trauma, Marginalization, and Disinvestment in Native American and Black American Communities: Many variables compound to create vulnerability.

What should happen next?

Mwarumba explained that we should devote more attention — our knowledge, our data — to addressing some of the root causes of unsafe conditions.

“It’s important because during recovery, you’re thinking about not just immediate response, but long-term remission,” she said.

After a disaster, people often say they want to get back to “normal.” The urge is understandable, but one should not try to get back to normal because normal is the problem in the first place.

“You want to rethink your building needs,” Mwaremba said. “Because if you’re trying to get back to normal quickly, that means you’re making yourself vulnerable to another event. And that event is actually going to get more complicated because you’re dealing with an event that affects what you’re currently experiencing.”

In other words, as CNN’s Rachel Ramirez recently highlighted, disasters are very comprehensive, and it’s important to consider what it means to recover and prepare beyond the present.

Montano pointed to the importance of comprehensive, robust media coverage.

“These disasters are not one-off events. The problems we’re seeing in Kentucky are going to be very similar to what we’re seeing in Arizona, Missouri and other disaster-affected places,” she said. “It’s important to the public because when you see problems recurring, it means these are systemic problems.”

It is also important to maintain media coverage.

“The reports on Kentucky are going to drop in a few days, but in some ways, that’s when the disaster really begins,” Montano said.

Recovering from the flood will be long and difficult. It is critical that media organisations continue to report on what is happening and hold governments accountable.

In fact, what governments choose to do or refuse to do after a disaster is very important and can have huge consequences for people at the center of extreme weather events.

“We often view climate change as a scientific issue, a technological issue, an energy issue or a political issue,” Arndt said, “but it is ultimately an anthropological issue.”

To put it more bluntly: which lives do we value? What will we hurt?

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