~ Overview

Climate change is playing a bigger role in determining where and how we live, and is limiting access to and availability of affordable healthy housing, healthy food choices, transportation choices, and social networks, which is forcing displacement of individuals and communities. Displacement— whether temporary or permanent, forced or voluntary—is an issue rooted in inequity and exacerbated by climate change. Climate change poses significant threats to the physical, cultural, spiritual, social, and economic displacement of communities around the world. It is also causing increasing mental and emotional distress or solastalgia—the loss of sense of place or identity.1 In some cases, the improvements made to communities to help them adapt to climate change may exacerbate gentrification, leading to rising housing costs and rents and redevelopment, squeezing the most vulnerable communities into living conditions that are even less equipped to bounce back if a natural disaster were to occur.

Factors That Affect DISPLACEMENT

As part of EcoAdapt’s State of Adaptation Program,2 we partnered with the Strong, Prosperous, and Resilient Communities Challenge (SPARCC) to conduct a survey to determine if and how people working to address displacement pressures are considering the effects of climate change. This survey is part of a broader project in collaboration with the Urban Displacement Project to better understand the intersections between climate change and displacement pressures.

Our objectives were to identify:

  1. To what degree anti-displacement practitioners are thinking about climate change in their work
  2. Emerging practices and policies that may address the dual goals of reducing climate risks and displacement pressures
  3. Needs, opportunities, and barriers in reducing climate risks and displacement pressures in communities

Climate change is one of several factors influencing the potential displacement of individuals and communities (Figure 1; Table 1). Communities throughout the United States are increasingly subject to extreme heat, flooding, storms, wildfire, drought, and changes in water availability. These risks are not equally distributed across communities. The state of individual and community wellbeing depends on interactions between exposure to the physical environment, vulnerability to threats, and human adaptive capacity. The vulnerability of a community is influenced by various social determinants, such as race and ethnicity, age, gender, economic stability (e.g., cost of living, access to living wage), education, housing and transportation options, safe drinking water, and physical and economic access to critical services. For example, communities located in low-lying flood zones are inherently more at risk from flooding, storms, and sea level rise. The ability of individuals and/or communities to move or otherwise adjust in anticipation of or in response to stresses such as climate change and extreme weather events is also influenced by these social determinants. For those with economic means, moving beyond their place of residence is possible, but for many frontline communities, the only choice is to stay in place or move internally.

Table 1.

Social factors influence a community’s adaptive capacity or ability to prevent or recover from a disaster or climate-related event. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) calculates the vulnerability of counties based on U.S. Census data and factors such as poverty and access to transportation and housing, grouped into four major themes— socioeconomic status (e.g., unemployment, income), household composition and disability (e.g., ages, disability status, single-parent households), minority status and language (e.g., race/ethnicity, English as a Second Language), and housing and transportation (e.g., no vehicle, mobile homes, crowding).3 Possible scores for the Index range from 0 (lowest vulnerability) to 1 (highest vulnerability). SVI data and maps can be used to better prepare for and respond to events by identifying the most at-risk communities, estimating supplies needed, and identifying emergency shelter needs. Among the SPARCC cities, there is a range of high (Memphis, Los Angeles), moderate to high (Chicago, Atlanta), and low to moderate (Denver, Bay Area) levels of social vulnerability (Table 2).

Table 2. Social Vulnerability Index scores of SPARCC cities/counties.

1 Albrecht G, Sartore GM, Connor L, Higginbotham N, Freeman S, Kelly B, Stain H, Tonna A, Pollard G. 2007. Solastalgia: the distress caused by environmental change. Australasian Psychiatry 15 Suppl 1(1):S95-8.

2 EcoAdapt State of Adaptation Program

3 CDC/ATSDR Social Vulnerability Index

4 Presents averages of SVI scores for Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, Napa, San Francisco, San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Solano, and Sonoma counties. The highest overall social vulnerability scores are Solano (0.6511), Alameda (0.5164), and Santa Cruz (0.5148). The highest housing and transportation scores are for San Francisco (0.9443), Alameda (0.9112), and Santa Cruz (0.9039).