The 5th National Climate Assessment (NCA 5) was released last November. This congressionally mandated document is the culmination of two years of work on the part of over 300 leading environmental scientists in the United States that outlines the state of our changing climate. It is a gargantuan report that covers a range of technical climate information in a somewhat lay fashion. However, it can still be difficult for the average person to approach the report on their own, and even more difficult to think about how the report can relate to their everyday life.
I am hoping that this article can help people living in the Triangle draw some practical lessons from the assessment and point to immediate actions that can be taken to address climate change at a local and state level.
The 32 chapters of the NCA 5 fit into several categories: overview (chapter 1); physical sciences (chapters 2 & 3); national topics (chapters 4-20); regional (chapters 21-30); and response (chapters 31& 32). There is a wealth of information and ground level insights to be drawn from each of these chapters. A good place to start with the report is the regional chapters, specifically, the region where you reside. For those of us in the Triangle that is the Southeast chapter (chapter 22). In the rest of this post I would like to highlight two salient insights for Triangle residents and close with three things that you can do in your everyday life to address climate change.
Insight #1: Climate Change in the South is tied intimately to historical oppression
The introduction to the Southeast chapter is a powerful statement on the role of historical and ongoing systems of oppression in exacerbating our current climate crisis. Communities of color, frontline communities and rural communities will be hit first and worst by climate change. The needs and voices of these communities must be prioritized in our mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change. If we fail to do this, we will exacerbate existing systems of oppression and more than likely develop some new ones. It is worth reading the first paragraph of the chapter, which is remarkable in its forthrightness in regards to issues of justice for a congressionally mandated technical scientific report. See below:
“Patterns of climate risk, social vulnerability, and climate adaptation in the Southeast echo centuries of human history. The region consists of highly diverse communities and landscapes, including one of the most biodiverse areas in the continental United States. The Southeast’s ecosystems, stewarded for generations by Indigenous Peoples, are now in a precarious state. Centuries of political and land-use decisions have threatened the landscape and the people, with a few prospering at the expense of many. These decisions, shaped by a long history of systemic and structural racial discrimination and aggression, continue to have lasting harmful effects on the preparedness of Southeast communities for mounting climate change threats. The institutions of slavery and intergenerational ownership of individuals as property, Jim Crow segregation, and housing discrimination have resulted in many BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities living in neighborhoods that are disproportionately exposed to environmental risks and with fewer resources to address them when compared to majority White communities (Figure 32.18).1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13 Furthermore, these frontline communities—those with higher exposures, greater vulnerability, and less adaptive capacity to climate change impacts—continue to face forms of discrimination that increase their vulnerability to climate risks and reduce their options for resilience (Figure 20.1).1,14,15 These inequities are further complicated by the Southeast’s population changes, economic investments, and rising tax revenues in urban and suburban areas. Wealthier communities are able to seek out external resources needed to implement innovative climate resilience and adaptation projects.16,17 Meanwhile, smaller and more rural communities often lack the capacity to receive and spend funding, train leadership, and advocate for climate adaptation planning.18”
Insight #2: Regional growth increases climate risks
Have you moved to the Triangle in the last five years? If so, you are not alone. The metropolitan and coastal areas in the southeast have experienced remarkable growth over the past 10 years and this trend is predicted to continue at an accelerated pace over the next 40 years. Conversely, rural areas in the southeast have undergone population loss the last 10 years, a pattern of out migration that will quicken over the next four decades. These dual population dynamics will lead to a strain on resources and ecosystems in metro areas and a drain of financial and human capital in rural areas. Going forward, density, smart growth and green infrastructure will be key to sustaining growing metro regions. Additionally, there will be a need to ensure that rural areas have equitable access to the social and financial capital of the region to adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.
What can you do to address climate change in the Triangle and North Carolina?
-Behavior #1: Learn the history and current social dynamics of your local community.
We have been taught to think of climate change through the lens of natural and physical sciences. However, it is clear from the NCA 5 that equitable and sustainable mitigation and adaptation to climate change will require deep knowledge and consideration of our shared history and how this often sordid history continues to shape society. None of us living today created these systems of oppression, but if we allow them to persist or exacerbate their deleterious impacts, intentionally or out of ignorance, we become architects.These systems harm all of us, materially and spiritually.
-Behavior #2: Take a step back.
Are you affluent (if you are reading this, you are more affluent than you think)? Did you move to the triangle in the last 5 years? Is your experience with NC, based on living in the Triangle, trips to the beaches, trips to the mountains and RDU? Fight your desire to be in front, to lead, to be vocal, to hold local offices. Take a step back and prioritize the voices and leadership of people from Frontline and less affluent communities.
-Behavior #3: Support organizations and communities addressing climate change in rural North Carolina.
There are organizations doing the Lord’s work across NC to support our most vulnerable communities in response to the climate crisis. Give them money.