Climate resilience can enhance social cohesion, reduce inequity

At a conference this summer, Building Climate Resilience for Equitable Communities, Shaun Donovan, Director of the Office of Management and the Budget, announced a slew of new White House climate resilience initiatives that are targeted to helping communities at risk and reduce the inequity that has become a major source of social instability.  He asked:

“Why are some children less likely to go to college, find good-paying jobs, and stay out of the criminal justice system? Why do those who have the least stand to lose the most when the storm comes through?”

Donovan went on to outline several programs that address these questions, through the lens of federal efforts to increase resilience in the face of climate challenges, including one that facilitates solar integration for those who are renters or don’t have adequate roof space, another that trains public housing residents to work in the burgeoning solar industry, as well as the Resilience AmeriCorps program that we already covered.  You can download the White House Task Force report here, or see Donovan’s talk in full at the link above.

Along these lines, we were also excited to see a recent report from the Center for American Progress that zeroes in on the personal/social assets that are, in many ways, the key to success for resilient investors.  It’s called Social Cohesion: The Secret Weapon in the Fight for Equitable Climate Resilience, and we highly recommend that any of you who are involved in local community-building efforts give it a look.  The CAP’s introduction to the report notes that “A cohesive society works towards the well-being of all its members, fights exclusion and marginalisation, creates a sense of belonging, promotes trust, and offers its members the opportunity of upward social mobility.”  This is a solid, practical description of the connectedness and enhanced well-being that become the “returns” from your investments in personal/social assets, as part of your close-to-home strategy within your local community.

Here’s a taste:

Weather is often referred to as “the great equalizer,” but 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.

Social cohesion can help serve as a resilience tool before, during, and after an extreme weather event:

  • Before an extreme weather event: Mapping low-income, climate-vulnerable communities can target weatherization, energy-efficiency measures, and other resources to prevent the worst impacts of extreme weather. Identifying these communities can also assist government efforts to foster social cohesiveness within those areas in order to improve climate resilience during and after extreme weather.
  • During an extreme weather event: Residents and organizations in more connected communities can assist with supplies and help prevent displacement while identifying local needs for government officials.
  • After an extreme weather event: Cohesive communities may have a shorter duration of climate displacement. Cohesive communities participating in voluntary coastal buyback programs may receive greater compensation than individual residents.

For these benefits to be realized, however, government policies must foster community cohesion and incorporate community input in climate resilience and mitigation plans. Of course, social cohesion and other resilience strategies benefit all communities, not just low-income areas. However, since low-income neighborhoods are the most vulnerable to climate change effects, these strategies are particularly beneficial in those communities. Moreover, social cohesion is a vital tool for low-income communities because they typically experience unique housing, economic, and health disadvantages even before extreme weather strikes.

At the CAP website, you can read the full summary excerpted above, or download the full report.

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