29 May 15

Are you ready to jump out of your silo naked?


Equity and social justice have been part of the international climate dialog for a long time, particularly around the issue of who contributes most to climate change (wealthy countries and people) vs. who suffers most as a result (poorer nations and people) and around gender (women often experience more climate change effects than men, and may be better at tackling community-level adaptation). Although we’re starting to see more attention to equity and social justice in discussions of national-level adaptation, it’s been a bit slow, especially in the United States, so the Mavens thought we’d devote a column to it.

Poor communities typically get the short end of the stick on many fronts. Landfills? Put ‘em closer to poor communities. Toxic waste dumps? Ditto. Military-style policing? Why not? Many poor communities and individuals bear the burden of racism as well as classism, along with a history of institutional oppression. All of this can increase sensitivity to the negative effects of climate change, decrease ability to recover, and make it harder to push for transformative adaptation policy.

There are even physical elements to this: poor neighborhoods typically have fewer trees than wealthier neighborhoods, which means they get less of the cooling effect during heat waves; fewer medical service providers, which means they have less access to care for heat related illness; and fewer social safety nets, which means people may not even know about care opportunities.

Furthermore, when it comes to developing adaptation strategies these communities are often treated as sacrificial—they become floodplains, are zoned for industrial solutions or are ignored altogether. Citizens from these communities frequently are not included in city planning conversation, can’t afford to miss work or pay for child care to attend meetings, or may not be seen as a vital voice in decision-making.

All these injustices are one aspect of why equity deserves a bigger role in the adaptation discussion: the same sense of justice and morality that calls us to care for the most vulnerable and to work for liberty and freedom for all should inform adaptation planning and priorities.

But it’s also true that people with less to lose can be more willing to take risks. If the current system isn’t working for you, you’re less invested in the status quo and potentially more willing to push for transformative change. We give two examples.

A few years ago the Mavens had the honor and the pleasure of leading a workshop in which the late, great Charity Hicks was a participant. She helped found the Detroit People’s Water Board and sat on the Food Justice Task Force, fighting for people’s right to accessible public water and healthy, locally produced food. She spent two days in jail with no charges filed for asking to see a shutoff notice when the City showed up to turn off the water for most folks on her block. And while the City was shutting off the water in poor neighborhoods when people owed as little as $75 or $100, water kept flowing to golf clubs, hockey arenas, a football stadium, and other commercial and industrial users owed millions. Because conditions were so dire, Charity recognized the need for local action as well as system transformation—the need to not just break down silos but to “jump out of silos naked” (she really said this!) to get things done. Faced with a city in rapid decline and some of the highest water rates in the country as well as more heavy rains and heat waves, Charity and others set up community rainwater collection systems (despite laws against them in Detroit) and turned vacant lots into thriving community gardens. In addition to providing food and social gathering places, these projects replaced blacktop with greenery--less runoff during floods, more cooling during heat waves!

On a broader scale, many tribes and indigenous communities are way out ahead on adaptation (First Stewards, Climate Change Profiles, Tribes and Climate Change). Having undergone massive cultural and ecological loss following the arrival of Europeans, they are no strangers to finding ways to persevere. Recognizing how the geographic restrictions of the reservation system increases their vulnerability to climate change, some coastal tribes and tribes in floodplains have worked to secure more land to allow them to move homes and facilities out of harm’s way. Conversations are underway regarding how to maintain access to resources such as fish and wild rice should those species shift beyond areas where tribal members have access rights. Tribes are experimenting with approaches to vulnerability assessment and adaptation planning that fully integrate the ecological, social, and cultural.The recent Cahokia Statement, penned at the National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis earlier this month, lays out many facets of equity that will be required as part of adaptation to protect their communities, livelihoods and cultures.

The Mavens were recently in Oklahoma where a friend ruminated about how society has been struggling since the first Earth Day in 1970 to make issues like climate change not just rich white men’s problem. Clearly part of that is making sure it is not only rich, white men at the table developing the solutions. Another part is recognizing that many people are out there doing good work outside the bounds of the “mainstream” conservation movement and “official” city officials.

Are equity and social justice a necessary element of “good” adaptation? Yes, because it’s right, and yes, because we all need the energy and ideas that people who can’t buy their way out of a problem bring to bear. Whole communities are needed for holistic solutions that can lead to sustainable, affordable futures for all.

Recommended Citation

Adaptation Mavens. (2015, May). Are you ready to jump out of your silo naked? Retrieved from CAKE (http://cakex.org/community/advice/are-you-ready-jump-out-your-silo-naked).