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Cities are trying to make climate change response more equitable

climate change black communities
Posted at 1:46 PM, Feb 17, 2022

CHELSEA, Mass. — A fresh blanket of snow coats the streets and sidewalks of Chelsea, Massachusetts. This working-class community of 40,000 sits on the waters of Boston Harbor, which has given residents here a front-row seat to the impacts of climate change.

Even in the middle of winter though, the work goes on for Roseann Bongiovanni. She serves as the executive director for Greenroots, a climate justice nonprofit based here in the city.

"For us, it's about protecting the people who live in these communities and protecting our health," Bongiovanni said sitting inside of her office.

The median income in Chelsea is around $27,000. Per capita, it is one of the most densely populated areas in the country. At 1.8 square miles, there is only 5% of open green space here and 2% tree canopy cover.

All of that means this largely low-income community is quite literally on the front lines of climate change.

"Something needs to be done to reverse the effects that racism has placed on communities of color," Bongiovanni said.

From rising sea levels to extreme urban heating. Residents of this community are more susceptible to the impacts of climate change and also have fewer resources to help mitigate the impacts.

"It’s not a mistake that there’s a disproportionate burden placed on communities of color. Our communities are shouldering a disproportionate burden of climate impacts," she added.

Cutler Cleveland, a professor at Boston University, has spent years studying how climate change is disproportionally impacting lower-income and minority communities. In the last few years though, he’s seen more American cities pushing to address those gaps.

"You have to have marginalized populations involved in the planning process so policies are designed from the start with reducing inequity," he said.

To better address the inequities of climate change, many cities are developing interactive maps which help residents better understand how social vulnerabilities and climate change are colliding.

"The affluent and wealthy can insulate themselves to a greater extent than lower-income households," Cleveland added.

Back at Greenroots, Roseann Bongiovanni and her team are now deploying air quality measuring devices around the city of Chelsea. Their hope is to better identify where residents might benefit from things like an air purifier in their homes. The nonprofit is also pushing to paint the tops of some buildings white to reduce the impacts of urban heating in the summer.

"We need to see action, resources, and prioritization of brown, Black and immigrant communities."