How Social Cohesion Helps Create a More Equitable Response to Climate Change
Climate impacts affect us all, but poorer populations are especially at risk. Low-income housing tends to offer inadequate protection against extreme weather, and low-income areas often have higher rates of illnesses such as asthma that are exacerbated by climate change. But there is a way for these vulnerable communities to fight back. As this article from the Center for American Progress explains, one of the best weapons for strengthening climate preparedness and resilience is social cohesion.
A socially cohesive community is one with a high level of interaction, organization, and cooperation. Social cohesion can help communities put measures and resources in place to minimize climate impacts, assist with response efforts during an extreme weather event, and shorten periods of displacement after an event.
As the article points out, incorporating social cohesion into resilience strategies requires establishing good communication and trust between communities and planners – and while that may be challenging, the potential benefits are well worth the effort.
Danielle Baussan, Managing Director of Energy Policy at the Center for American Progress
In July 1995, Chicago experienced the deadliest weather event in the city’s history: a sustained heat wave that included a heat index—a measure of the heat experienced by a typical individual—of 120 degrees Fahrenheit. The extreme weather of that summer 20 years ago led to at least 465 heat-related deaths over a roughly two-week period. While all Chicagoans felt the heat, they did not suffer equally. The parts of the Windy City with higher concentrations of low-income people, elderly people, and African Americans experienced some of the highest heat-related death rates. Pinpointing the locations of these deaths revealed a map of climate vulnerability that spoke to stark racial divisions and inequality within Chicago.
Weather is often referred to as “the great equalizer,” but as Chicago’s experience shows, extreme weather such as flooding, storms, unusually cold spells, and heat waves disproportionately affect low-income communities. There are several explanations for this disparity. Low-income housing—which is typically older and of poor quality—tends to provide less protection from extreme weather. After destructive weather events, people in low-income communities are not able to recover as quickly or completely as individuals who live in more financially secure communities. Moreover, people who choose to leave or are forced to move from a climate-affected area become “climate displaced,” which results in disruptions to their lives and a potential burden to host communities.
Image credit: AP/Elise Amendola