Figure: Root Causes and Factors Contributing to Climate Vulnerability. Image credit: Urban Sustainability Directors Network's Guide to Equitable Community-Driven Climate Preparedness Planning, May 2017.
Why the City Centers Equity and Justice in Climate Work
Climate change is a complex threat that aggravates the existing social inequities within society today. Systemic racism and classism result in increased vulnerability to climate hazards and decreased capability to adapt for people of color, immigrants, refugees, and lower-income residents, often referred to as frontline communities. Many of these inequities are a direct result of government policy and decision making. It is necessary to address the systemic changes and broadly lead with racial and social justice. Local governments can best support communities by ensuring an equitable, community-driven planning process that empowers those most impacted to take part in decision making, fairly distributing benefits and burdens of climate action, and addressing these systemic factors for long-term social change.
As part of centering equity and justice in climate action, we are uplifting Indigenous wisdom and connection to the land. It is important not only to acknowledge the history of violence against Indigenous people, and their resilience to survive these acts, but also to recognize that Ohlone people are alive and flourishing members of the San Leandro and broader Bay Area communities today. We uplift Indigenous cultural practices and traditions as critical solutions to the climate crisis. In moving forward together with Indigenous people, we hope to begin rematriating the land and healing our communities.
Social Inequities and Climate Vulnerability
Race is a major determinant of life quality and outcomes, and in the United States, it is tied to income and wealth. Since race impacts resource access and health conditions, it is a reliable predictor for climate vulnerability and risk. Historically and currently, institutions and structural systems drive and perpetuate inequitable distribution of resources, access to opportunities, and poor life outcomes that many frontline communities face. Examples include redlining, exclusionary housing policies, forced removal of indigenous communities, and Jim Crow segregation. Not only did these policies exacerbate the wealth and income gap between white families and families of color, they also resulted in a greater number of lower-income and communities of color living in areas at greater risk of climate impacts such as flooding, urban heat islands, and poor air quality. Furthermore, the lack of financial resources and existing infrastructure such as affordable public transit or green spaces may increase challenges for frontline communities to respond or cope to climate events. This puts frontline communities in a bind: communities most vulnerable to climate change are least likely to have resources to adapt to climate change.
Many of these systemic issues are larger than any one person or the City of San Leandro, and by the nature of root causes, do not have quick fixes or simple solutions. National and state legislation, such as the Fair Housing Act and requirements for an environmental justice element in the General Plan are starting points. The City has begun the process of examining its policies and developing an equity plan with a team of consultants, internal staff, and community members that address these root causes that result in heightened vulnerability to climate impacts. In addition, the City has some programming and policies focused on reaching frontline communities, such as resilience hubs, transit-oriented affordable housing development, and multilingual translation during public meetings.