Why some communities are more affected by climate change
More than a dozen people have lost their lives as a result of the catastrophic flooding in Kentucky.
On Tuesday, Governor Andy Beshear said in an interview with CNN’s Jim Sciutto that the water “carried some folks miles away from where they were” and that “it’ll take weeks to account for everybody.”
The effects of climate change are amplifying the severity of extreme weather events such as the devastating flooding that occurred in Kentucky, Missouri, and Arizona just a week ago.
The flooding, however, sheds light on a larger truth, which is that communities of minority and low-income areas are bearing the brunt of the effects of the climate catastrophe.
Recently, Deke Arndt, who is the chief of climate science and services at NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, emphasized that the effects of climate change are not uniformly distributed.
“This week there have been numerous photographs showing individuals being rescued from high water. During the ten years that I spent working in disaster management, I learned one important fact: residents of wealthy neighborhoods are never forcibly evicted from their homes. You can’t unsee it once you have, and there’s no going back,” Arndt sent out a tweet the previous Thursday.
“In the context of our changing climate, Big Weather, but notably flash floods, aggressively targets the weak and underinformed,” he added. “Big Weather” is an abbreviation for “big weather.”
According to the office of the governor, which released their findings on Monday, sixteen of the fatalities that occurred in Kentucky were in Knott County. Breathitt County had the highest death toll, with seven, followed by Clay County with two, Letcher County with two, and Perry County with three.
According to data from the 2020 United States Census, these five counties are among the poorest counties in the United States.
“The reality is that when creeks get up and out of their banks, they almost always find the folks who are already living closer to the margins,” Arndt told CNN. “Whether these are people in manufactured housing or mobile homes or people who are living in homes that are well within the floodplain, creeks almost always find the folks who are already living closer to the margins. The previous week, we came across it in eastern Kentucky. During the summer of 2017, we observed it in the western part of North Carolina where I grew up.”
The experts agree that this is a consistent theme: Particularly devastating for populations that are already in a vulnerable state are flash floods. The prevention of natural disasters should not be viewed as a short-term objective but rather as a long-term one if we are to be successful in our efforts to defend against the risks posed by climate change.
According to Samantha Montano, an assistant professor of emergency management at Massachusetts Maritime Academy and the author of the book “Disasterology: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis,” which is scheduled to be released in 2021, there are a few reasons why the climate crisis affects certain communities more severely than others.
To begin, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color have a longer history of being settled in areas that are physically more susceptible to the effects of severe weather. This trend has persisted over the course of many decades.
According to statements made by Montano to CNN, “when a city expands, some people are typically pushed towards marshlands or bayous or other high-risk locations.”
The infrastructure is another factor that comes into play. Communities with low incomes typically receive much less investment in their infrastructure, which results in the infrastructure’s increased vulnerability.
“So, when there is a rainstorm or another hazard happens, the infrastructure isn’t able to withstand those impacts like the more up-to-date infrastructure in a wealthier community can,” continued Montano. “So, when there is a rainstorm or another hazard happens, the infrastructure isn’t able to withstand those impacts.”
There are a variety of other social vulnerabilities that should be considered. Richer people have the financial means to construct their homes in accordance with stricter building rules and use building materials that are of a higher quality. In addition, persons who are wealthy have the ability to spend more money on risk reduction measures.
“Consider the infamous case of celebrities in California retaining the services of private firefighters,” Montano said. “What happened?” They have a greater capacity to protect themselves whenever one of these dangers occurs.
Some of Montano’s thoughts were mirrored by Njoki Mwarumba, an assistant professor of emergency management and disaster preparedness at the University of Nebraska Omaha.
According to something that Mwarumba said in an interview with CNN, “one thing that is continually misinterpreted and that does not receive the attention it requires is the reality that individuals do not wake up and decide to be vulnerable.” When we strive to help individuals in their communities from a position of vulnerability, we frequently neglect the structures that created that position of vulnerability.
Miseducation, historical trauma in communities of Native Americans and African Americans, marginalization, and a lack of investment are only some of the many factors that contribute to susceptibility.
Mwarumba said that we ought to focus more of our attention, as well as our knowledge and our statistics, on tackling some of these fundamental factors that contribute to unsafe circumstances.
“This is crucial because during recovery, you want to think about not only the immediate response but also long-term mitigation,” she added. “During recovery, you want to think about not only the immediate response but also long-term mitigation.”
People frequently express their desire to return to “normal” after a catastrophic event by saying that they want things to “go back to normal.” This desire is reasonable, but people shouldn’t attempt to get back to normal because normal was the problem in the first place. Normal was the problem.
Mwarumba advised, “You should reconsider the requirements for your building. Because if you strive to get back to normal as quickly as possible, what that really means is that you’re putting yourself in a position where you’re more likely to experience another episode. And that event is actually going to be exacerbated, because you are going to be coping with the impacts of the event that you are presently going through. This means that the event that you are currently going through will actually make the other event worse.”
In other words, natural catastrophes are quite thorough, as was recently emphasized by CNN’s Rachel Ramirez, and it is essential to consider what recovery and preparedness imply beyond just the immediate present moment.
Montano brought attention to the need for comprehensive and active media coverage.
“These catastrophes are not isolated occurrences. The challenges we have in Kentucky are going to be strikingly comparable to those we face in Arizona, Missouri, and any other location in the country that has been impacted by a natural disaster “
“It is crucial for the public to realize this, because when difficulties come up again and again, that implies that there is a problem with the system.”
“The reporting on Kentucky is going to drop off in a few days, but in some ways, that’s when the tragedy is really just beginning,” Montano said. “The reporting on Kentucky is going to drop off in a few days.”
It is going to take a very long time and be very challenging to recover from the flooding. It is essential that news organizations continue to report on current events and hold governments accountable for their actions.
In point of fact, what governments decide to do in the aftermath of a disaster, or choose not to do, is of critical importance and can have enormous repercussions for the people who are directly impacted by an extreme weather event.
According to Arndt, “we typically define climate change as an issue related to science or technology or energy or politics,” but in the end, “it’s fundamentally an anthropological issue.”
To phrase the question in a bit more direct language: Whose life do we prioritize? Which of them do we choose to put in danger?