While climate change affects the whole globe, underserved communities are more likely to be adversely impacted. And while climate change as a whole requires systematic changes from governments and corporations around the world, underserved communities can organize themselves to cope with the current issues they face.
Local grassroots movements can also strengthen the bonds of people in these areas, allowing them to become more involved with sustainable practices and policies.
This article will review some of the most vulnerable populations and how community-based solutions safeguard them from climate crises.
Challenges Faced By These Communities
In 2021, the U.S. EPA released a report that showed that climate change presented the most challenges to “underserved communities.” These communities struggled to withstand climate change-related difficulties like poor air quality, high heat, and storm damage.
The report also noted that people of color were more likely to struggle with asthma and fatalities caused by intense temperatures. Hispanic and Latino populations, in particular, were more likely to participate in industries such as construction, leaving them susceptible to problems and health issues related to the weather.
However, the problems don’t stop there. Let’s take a look at which climate change effects underserved communities face, and what everyone can do to address them.
Climate change is likely playing a role in natural disasters, an obvious threat to communities and the people who live there. If global temperatures rise, people can expect:
- Increased frequency and length of droughts;
- Intensified danger levels of storms such as cyclones, hurricanes, and tornadoes;
- Rising sea levels contribute to increased flooding, partially caused by the melting ice caps;
- More frequent and disastrous wildfires
These disasters can reshape or destroy entire neighborhoods, including homes and businesses. And of course, each of these disasters brings a threat to life.
The Health Impacts of Climate Change
As climate change affects weather patterns, health risks increase too. Poor air quality is one of the biggest challenges facing underserved communities. It is caused by:
- Ground-level ozone comes from both human sources, such as power plants and vehicles, and natural sources like forests. While ozone levels are improving due to regulations, they still have harmful effects, including premature death, respiratory illness, and worsened asthma attacks.
- Particulate matter, which are tiny particles of liquid or solid compounds and chemicals. Wildfires are the largest cause of this pollutant. Particulate matter increases the risk and severity of asthma, pulmonary disease, bronchitis, and pneumonia.
Those at the highest risk from these pollutants include young children, seniors, and people with existing health issues, like an autoimmune disease.
Other harmful health issues impacted by climate change include a rise in allergies. Pollen seasons are longer and stronger thanks to greater levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, contributing to the frequency and severity of allergy attacks.
It’s easy to see these airborne health issues, but another threat caused by climate is less noticeable. Biodiversity is also at risk. Ecosystems are defined by the variety of living things within them and how they interact. This biodiversity is crucial to helping these systems thrive.
And that’s good for humans. Thriving ecosystems provide us with food, products, and services. But when disrupted, many challenges can occur that can harm the health and wellness of a community. Deforestation, overpopulation, and mining — all of which contribute to climate change — tax the environment by threatening the healthy ecosystems we rely on.
Water scarcity is another concern brought on by climate change. Ecosystems must remain strong and healthy to ensure that all communities have access to safe water sources, a fundamental right for all. Saltwater environments have also been affected. With the rise in global temperatures, water temperatures have also risen, making oceanic environments deadly for a majority of the sealife that surrounding underserved communities rely on for food.
Natural disasters, poor air quality, and the destruction of ecosystems can take a toll on farming, livestock, and other forms of food production. In addition, they also harm plants and animals in the food chain leading to food shortages.
While not climate-related, we can see how the pandemic upset supply chains. Similarly, natural disasters can also disrupt the chain, leading to shortages, which underserved communities — especially low socioeconomic communities — may be the first to see
The devastation caused by natural disasters can lead to trauma, depression, grief, and anxiety as people cope with the impact of loss on their front steps.
However, even people not directly impacted by these calamities can suffer climate grief. Climate grief is a deep, profound sense of loss about the environment, which presents a similar experience to the loss of a loved one, such as mourning.
While all these problems can be harmful, there is hope. When communities come together to address these challenges, people do not have to feel hopeless or powerless in the face of climate change.
How Communities Can Respond
Often a community will bond after a natural disaster. However, a more proactive approach is for vulnerable communities to create support and solutions before disaster strikes. These can include:
- Promote sustainable community projects that support eco-friendly development and maintenance.
- Create community gardens to provide food.
- Form groups supporting local activism for climate action.
- Organize to support existing local green spaces, waterways, and ecosystems.
The Importance of Protecting Local Spaces
Protecting local wildlife spaces is not just critical for safeguarding the environment. When managed with an eye on conservation, they can serve as an additional food source. The good news is that today, many locals understand how to take a conservationist approach to hunt and fishing.
If you live in an area like this, get involved to protect wildlife resources from being harmed or depleted. Here are the steps you can take:
- Be sure to hunt or fish responsibly. Pay attention to all rules and regulations that are in place to protect wildlife from devastation.
- Using these sources wisely and within limits can feed your family or your community, while ensuring these resources have the chance to replenish.
- Join a local conservation organization that helps to restore natural habitats and protect biodiversity.
- Support international organizations that stop poaching and other illegal practices.
- Do your part to fight pollution and take other measures to protect wildlife, such as ensuring that you take all the steps to prevent a forest fire when hunting or camping.
Local Nonprofits Can Be Critical
Local nonprofit organizations are an invaluable resource for addressing climate change. These organizations have their hands on the heartbeat of their communities and are very well acquainted with the needs, especially of underserved populations.
However, nonprofits often have limited resources and may not be able to address all problems that affect every underserved community. If you find this to be the case in your community, you can also focus on starting your own locally-focused nonprofit organizations from home. These are the most common missions you can strive for:
- Support native plant restoration to ensure that local ecosystems are protected.
- Start a food bank. Food banks fill a critical need during times of natural disaster or a food supply crisis and serve the community in general.
- Organize food delivery services for seniors. Companion and food delivery services support seniors and those with illnesses or conditions that impair mobility and function.
- Facilitate housing needed during and after a natural disaster. Refugee housing and support can provide much-needed help to families without shelter due to natural disasters, climate change, and other global crises.
Climate change poses real challenges for our world, impacting underserved neighborhoods more than others, causing health issues and other dangers. These communities should take steps to tackle these challenges head-on. Community action, protecting local spaces, and nonprofit organizations can combat climate change by protecting neighborhoods and the people who live there.