The smell of wood smoke wafting into my house on a September afternoon should be a cozy and comforting aroma, however combined with the 101 degree heat, I knew the smoke wasn’t coming from a neighbor’s fireplace. Stepping outside, I saw the telltale haze from the Soberanes Fire settling in the valley. Air quality in parts of California’s Central Coast are now worse than Beijing as the most expensive wildfire in U.S. history continues to burn since July. Throughout California, groups are working to build resilience to the risks of climate disruption, including increasingly frequent and destructive fires.
Earlier this month, the California Adaptation Forum convened leaders and practitioners from across the state to share tools and ideas for addressing California’s adaptation needs. At the heart of this year’s forum was a commitment to strengthening cross-sectoral partnerships and building a more just and equitable climate movement that increases resilience for communities most vulnerable to climate impacts. Here are a few highlights from the forum:
Water has long been a top-of-mind concern for Californians. From record-breaking drought conditions to sea level rise, water-related impacts are a continued and growing threat. A session on community organizing for justice and resilience to the water-related impacts showcased a number of grassroots projects preparing for these risks and a key strategy for incorporating justice and equity in adaptation efforts is the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge.
Sacred Places for Institute for Indigenous Peoples based in Los Angeles encourages decision makers to meaningfully engage with Indigenous Peoples to protect cultural and natural resources affected by climate change and build the resilience of California Native Nations. In the Bay Area, Shore Up Marin is identifying community concerns and fostering dialogue about sea level rise solutions among diverse stakeholders. A multi-racial environmental coalition advocating for the inclusion of low-income communities in emergency preparedness and response, Shore Up Marin asserts that inequitable solutions put the whole community at risk.
Climate change is a cumulative issue and a threat multiplier. This means, for example, that the health impacts of wildfires serve to further aggravate existing respiratory conditions like asthma, which already disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities. The definition of “disadvantaged”, however, is a subject of disagreement among California decision makers.
CalEnviroScreen is a mapping tool used to determine which communities are facing these cumulative public health and environmental impacts from pollution sources, and thus where to direct state funding. The database includes twenty different indicators to measure a census tract’s pollution levels and socio-economic characteristics. The panel explored the ability of CalEnviroScreen’s metrics to accurately identify California’s most vulnerable communities. A key challenge is based around measurement, as impacts such as ozone are not effectively monitored and included in the analyses. Therefore, it’s highly likely that not all of the individuals who are inequitably shouldering the burden of climate change are recognized by the state as needing assistance.
Developing innovative and equitable “place-based” climate solutions requires working directly with residents to build community leadership and capacity. From South L.A. to the East Bay, community-based organizations are helping individuals adapt to climate impacts to create healthier, prosperous and more resilient neighborhoods, as well as scaling up these solutions to the state level.
Communities for a Better Environment is one of these groups, addressing extreme heat, sea level rise, public health and renewable energy access through their Climate Adaptation Resiliency Enhancement (CARE) program. They offer a “roadmap to resiliency” for residents to navigate the local planning process and demonstrate how the needs of vulnerable communities affected by transportation and fossil fuel extraction can be addressed through adaptation solutions. “When assessing vulnerabilities, we have to include frontline communities in the conversation to ensure that recommendations and projects are effective as well as representative of the communities.”
Learn more about the 2016 California Adaptation Forum and gain access to downloadable presentations: www.californiaadaptationforum.org/presentations