Celebrating the Power of One in Fight Against Climate Change
Suleiman Khan is a freshman student at Montgomery College Rockville. He is an international student from Saudi Arabia who is studying medicine. He aspires to be a doctor, more specifically a general surgeon who can help people in third world countries. He is planning to attend University of Maryland within the next year to continue his bachelors degree.
I have always had the feeling that my life was lacking in a way. That I was not doing enough of something. Yet, I could not figure out what that something was. It was a void that needed to be filled.
I remember when climate change was only a word to me. I remember when recycling was only a chore to do.
I remember all this so well because it was only fours months ago that I started to care about what climate change actually meant.
My sociology professor, whom I now consider to be a friend, first formally introduced me to the concept of climate change. At first, I thought that climate change was just a part of my sociology class—something that we would be done with after a few classes. However, that was not the case.
After several weeks of discussing the topic, I realized that climate change was more than that to my professor. For him, it was a passion and he felt an obligation to make his students also feel passionate about it.
I come from a country that is considered one of the richest in the world. A country where temperatures rise high enough to cook an egg on the sidewalk. I was raised in Saudi Arabia.
Climate change has never been a topic on the tongues of the students of Saudi Arabia. I cannot recall once ever hearing about climate change from my teachers, friends, classmates or family. This tells me that there is a huge population oblivious to what is happening around the world.
As a country that produces most of the fossil fuel distributed throughout the world, it is no surprise that climate change is never discussed in Saudi Arabia. That would be like admitting that the Saudi government has left a huge carbon footprint.
Since I only had a rudimentary understanding of climate change, I began researching more about it. I came across several talks on the topic by people I had never heard of before. One of them stood out to me. When talking about climate change, this person had a look on her face that I did not see on others. She had a look that was very familiar to me. In no time at all I remembered where I had seen that look before. It was the same look my professor had when he spoke about climate change. It was the look of passion.
This person’s name is Rachel Kyte, who is the World Bank’s principal advocate for raising global awareness of climate change. Ms. Kyte has given many talks about climate change over the years, and is helping inspire a social change in the world. Her speeches are inspirational. I remember thinking, how can I be like this person?
A week later, I was granted an opportunity that comes once in a lifetime. Have you ever wished you had the chance to meet someone and were granted that chance? My professor gave me that chance. He had sent me an invitation to attend the Connect4Climate screening of Years of Living Dangerously at the World Bank. The film was a preview of a new television series on climate change.
I could not believe how lucky I was. I immediately accepted the invitation and on the day of the screening I arrived at the World Bank a little bit ahead of time in the hope that I would be able to talk to Ms. Kyte. Unfortunately, I was not able to find her then. I was ushered to a seat in the auditorium, where I waited eagerly for the talk to begin. I sat straighter than I usually do and became stiff as a board.
While waiting I realized that there are a lot more people than I thought who are interested in the cause as of climate change. I realized that I was not fighting for lost cause. I felt supported.
The event started with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim stating facts about how he and his organization are trying to deal with climate change. After his talk, he invited three people on stage for a discussion about the importance of climate change and what we might expect to happen to the world if nothing is done to combat it. Ms. Kyte was moderator of the discussion.
The film that followed was something that can only be described as a dream. I could not believe what I was watching. It portrayed the world we live in the today, and the catastrophes that are happening all around us because of climate change. The movie contained many famous people who are also interested in the battle against humans’ constant greed, which is killing the very planet we live on.
The movie screening ended with a round of applause from the audience. I on the other hand had a hard time looking up. I was extremely emotional. The movie had a lot of elements that would have made a stonehearted man break down in tears. I managed to compose myself. I was determined to get a word in with Ms. Kyte.
After wriggling myself between reporters, I finally managed to reach her only to be dumbstruck. I had a small speech prepared on how much she has inspired me but was only able to stutter a bit. Somehow, I managed to compose myself and was able to say a few words to her about that. I was also able to pluck up the courage to ask her if she would be photographed with me. She was happy to oblige.
After leaving the auditorium I had a funny feeling in my gut. Walking past a glass window I saw a smile on my face that looked a bit out of place. After a few minutes I was able to put on a more socially acceptable smile.
I made my way to the small feast our hosts had put together for us. I was greeted by my professor and one of my classmates. My professor was also surrounded by two of his former students. As soon as I was introduced to them I felt an instant connection form between us. We shared the same cause and had the same inspiration.
After leaving my professors side I was struck with a new realization. I realized that the people who had attended the screening with me were not only from the U.S. There were people from China, Poland, India, Italy, Ivory, Coast, South Africa and even a fellow Saudi Arabian.
To see that there were people at the event from all over the world helped encourage me to stand firm and pursue my cause for as long as I my bones and muscles will allow me. To see a fellow countryman at the event was evidence enough that these people managed to get the word across the world. More and more people were becoming aware of our cause.
Suddenly I knew what I could do to help. I knew that I had to spread the word, to inspire as many people as I can. I decided that I would take on my professor’s legacy and enlighten the minds of people about the dangers of climate change.
I left the World Bank a new person. I left with a new purpose in life. I left with a cause.
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By Eric Tate and Christopher Emrich
Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>
Social Vulnerability as a Measure of Equity<p>Given their focus on social marginalization and economic barriers, social vulnerability indicators are attracting growing scientific interest as measures of inequity resulting from disasters. Indeed, social vulnerability and inequity are related concepts. Social vulnerability research explores the differential susceptibilities and capacities of disaster-affected populations, whereas social equity analyses tend to focus on population disparities in the allocation of resources for hazard mitigation and disaster recovery. Interventions with an equity focus emphasize full and equal resource access for all people with unmet disaster needs.</p><p>Yet newer studies of inequity in disaster programs have documented troubling disparities in income, race, and home ownership among those who <a href="https://eos.org/articles/equity-concerns-raised-in-federal-flood-property-buyouts" target="_blank">participate in flood buyout programs</a>, are <a href="https://www.eenews.net/stories/1063477407" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eligible for postdisaster loans</a>, receive short-term recovery assistance [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.102010" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Drakes et al.</em></a>, 2021], and have <a href="https://www.texastribune.org/2020/08/25/texas-natural-disasters--mental-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">access to mental health services</a>. For example, a recent analysis of federal flood buyouts found racial privilege to be infused at multiple program stages and geographic scales, resulting in resources that disproportionately benefit whiter and more urban counties and neighborhoods [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2378023120905439" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Elliott et al.</em></a>, 2020].</p><p>Investments in disaster risk reduction are largely prioritized on the basis of hazard modeling, historical impacts, and economic risk. Social equity, meanwhile, has been far less integrated into the considerations of public agencies for hazard and disaster management. But this situation may be beginning to shift. Following the adage of "what gets measured gets managed," social equity metrics are increasingly being inserted into disaster management.</p><p>At the national level, FEMA has <a href="https://www.fema.gov/news-release/20200220/fema-releases-affordability-framework-national-flood-insurance-program" target="_blank">developed options</a> to increase the affordability of flood insurance [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2018]. At the subnational scale, Puerto Rico has integrated social vulnerability into its CDBG Mitigation Action Plan, expanding its considerations of risk beyond only economic factors. At the local level, Harris County, Texas, has begun using social vulnerability indicators alongside traditional measures of flood risk to introduce equity into the prioritization of flood mitigation projects [<a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/Portals/62/Resilience/Bond-Program/Prioritization-Framework/final_prioritization-framework-report_20190827.pdf?ver=2019-09-19-092535-743" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Harris County Flood Control District</em></a>, 2019].</p><p>Unfortunately, many existing measures of disaster equity fall short. They may be unidimensional, using single indicators such as income in places where underlying vulnerability processes suggest that a multidimensional measure like racialized poverty (Figure 2) would be more valid. And criteria presumed to be objective and neutral for determining resource allocation, such as economic loss and cost-benefit ratios, prioritize asset value over social equity. For example, following the <a href="http://www.cedar-rapids.org/discover_cedar_rapids/flood_of_2008/2008_flood_facts.php" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2008 flooding</a> in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, cost-benefit criteria supported new flood protections for the city's central business district on the east side of the Cedar River but not for vulnerable populations and workforce housing on the west side.</p><p>Furthermore, many equity measures are aspatial or ahistorical, even though the roots of marginalization may lie in systemic and spatially explicit processes that originated long ago like redlining and urban renewal. More research is thus needed to understand which measures are most suitable for which social equity analyses.</p>
Challenges for Disaster Equity Analysis<p>Across studies that quantify, map, and analyze social vulnerability to natural hazards, modelers have faced recurrent measurement challenges, many of which also apply in measuring disaster equity (Table 1). The first is clearly establishing the purpose of an equity analysis by defining characteristics such as the end user and intended use, the type of hazard, and the disaster stage (i.e., mitigation, response, or recovery). Analyses using generalized indicators like the CDC Social Vulnerability Index may be appropriate for identifying broad areas of concern, whereas more detailed analyses are ideal for high-stakes decisions about budget allocations and project prioritization.</p>
By Jessica Corbett
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.