Policymakers should look at environmental injustice in addressing climate change, a study suggests.
Taking a close look at interviews, archival documents (from planning documents to personal papers) and analysis of policy documents, a team from University of Miami (UM) Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science were able to get to the heart of Miami’s climate conversations. The team specifically found that the city’s history of environmental injustice has led to a pervasive miscommunication between different communities leading to different groups coming to different conclusions about the history of climate change and what needs to be done to prevent its harmful effects moving forward.
They write in their article published in Environmental Research: Climate, “We have identified two long-term historic environmental narratives, about economic growth and environmental justice, which shape the contemporary climate debate in Miami, especially through narratives related to greenhouse gas emissions, sea level rise, climate gentrification, and resilience.”
“These findings are of particular interest as local governments begin to respond to climate pressures,” said Rosalind Donald, who conducted the injustice study while she was a postdoctoral associate in the UM Rosenstiel School’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy. “While climate change is often spoken of in scientific terms in the policy world, the people in our study were engaging with its wider societal context.”
Donald explained further that Miami’s real estate development and racial segregation “has created a fractured climate debate in which people experience different climate impacts.”
The team found that wealthier communities, living closer to the sea, are more likely to experience flooding and connect this with climate change, while lower socioeconomic classes, living further inland, are under gentrification pressure. Thus, they may associate climate change with gentrification. This phenomenon is known as ‘climate gentrification.’
“Research and the media often put differences of opinion about climate change to political differences,” said Donald. “It’s not just about deniers and believers, our research shows how climate change is personal to all of us.”
The team writes, “While most people in Miami agree that climate change is an immediate problem, various groups talk about and experience climate change very differently. These climate narratives are divided along the geographical and social lines of segregation, leading to conflicting understandings of climate risk and action stemming from socioeconomic and environmental inequities. Histories of growth and the environmental injustices that accompany it have strongly shaped contemporary climate narratives, at times contradicting scientific understandings of climate change and, until recently, leading to climate policies that prioritize economic growth.”
In order for climate conversations to be product, the team surmises, policymakers need to understand the specific audiences being addressed and speak of it in terms of their personal experiences with these changes and what they mean to them.
“It has divided the city into those who have benefited from this growth and those whose communities have subsidized the health, wealth, and environmental quality of others without enjoying the fruits of growth,” said Donald.
Only when discussions are had that center around each area’s differing point-of-view can real work to combat climate change be done.