Climate justice is the movement to achieve climate equity
Climate justice is the movement to achieve climate equity. The fight for climate justice raises ethical and political concerns about who exacerbates climate change and who suffers its immediate, short-term, and long-term impacts. Climate justice calls on those who have benefited from climate change, such as industries and government, to share resources with frontline communities in order to rectify damages and create conditions where negative impacts are not concentrated on marginalized communities.
Zip code is a strong identifier of these communities and predictor of an individual’s health and well-being. CEER uses a combination of data tools, such as the CDC’s social vulnerability index (SVI), social determinants of health (SDOH) and the EPA’s environmental justice screening to prioritize Houston’s Northeast Corridor in efforts to combat environmental injustice. The area’s roughly 200,000 mostly black and brown residents are disportionately affected by the impacts of climate change — like flooding — and are especially vulnerable to repercussions of continued environmental inequity such as policies that permit industrial land use in residential areas.
As northeast Houston goes, so goes the rest of Houston.
Climate equity acknowledges that climate change impacts have a multiplier effect on the existing vulnerabilities of a population. Warmer temperatures exacerbate and magnify conditions like food access, transportation, economic development, and health outcomes related to sea level rise, more frequent and hotter hot days, and more severe hurricanes. A warming planet allows for increased flooding, vector diseases, and heat related illnesses that ripen conditions for pandemics like COVID-19. As northeast Houston goes, so goes the rest of Houston.
In German-Wilson’s case, she has been serving on the frontline alongside communities in the Northeast Corridor for more than a decade. A self-described activist and city council contender in 2019, German-Wilson is president of Trinity/Houston Gardens Super neighborhood 48. After Hurricane Harvey, she and her fellow church goers quickly organized the distribution of food and essential goods. Years of being civically engaged taught German-Wilson that despite untoward urgency, it was necessary to collect pertinent demographic information on the people being served. She knew, from her time aggregating illegal dumping data in her neighborhood, that she would have to have the numbers, like zip code, to prove what her community needed.
“To this day, there are people still living in homes that have never been gutted. They've never gotten any real assistance.”
As she attended recovery events, she noticed that the same five zip codes in Trinity/ Houston Gardens were consistently not appearing on any city or county datasets as communities at greater risk. As she recalls, “When we went to the long term recovery meeting, we realized these communities weren’t on nobody’s radar.” She continued, “To this day, there are people still living in homes that have never been gutted. They've never gotten any real assistance.”
How that happens in a city where the same neighborhoods populate the top of every vulnerability and risk assessment is what CEER seeks to address especially as Houston constructs its Climate Action Plan (CAP). As CEER is concerned, the plan is not aggressive enough to reach optimal reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, does not set clear timelines for monitoring and reporting, and will not serve residents across the socioeconomic spectrum facing surmounting environmental justice issues. As it is, the city’s mitigation efforts will not reach the German-Wilson’s of the world who need open and formal processes that inform the public about how the city is prioritizing its investments and how those investments are directly related to harm caused by climate change.