Heat Map: A Climate of Change in America

by Colton Campbell, IEDC Intern 

On December 2nd, New America’s Future Tense program hosted an online webinar titled ‘Heat Map: A Climate of Change in America’. The discussion revolved around the Ten Across Initiative, a coalition from Los Angeles to Jacksonville that is designed to be a precursor for the rest of the country for social, demographic, economic, and climate change, and how different locations are approaching these issues. 

Tallahassee

One of the cities in the Ten Across Initiative is Tallahassee, Florida. To represent this city, Abena Ojetayo, Director of Housing and Community Resilience joined the webinar. Tallahassee is unique in that it is a full-service city along the front lines and can engage with statewide policy, being the capital of Florida. When asked if she has enough tools to deal with the issues of climate change, she highlighted that local governments are closest to the people and are very good at being creative, since they usually are dealing with lower allocation of resources. When her team started, the community members around her began to realize that hurricanes are not the only problem and other effects of climate change will be coming. Her city is doing a solution-focused approach to these issues, instead of centering in on terminology or even belief in climate change. 

El Paso

El Paso is another city in this cohort and Nicole Ferrini, Chief Resilience Officer for the city, was invited to talk about it. El Paso is a binational city, and according to Nicole, is truly driven by its people, so solutions focusing on the people are the way forward. When she began, she expected to deal mainly with extreme heat and low water issues, but her role has since expanded, forcing her and her team to look at different definitions of resilience. “I want to challenge the notion that resilience is about disaster and emergency recovery and the status quo”, Ferrini says. “Emergency response cannot just deal with things like flood waters.” Population displacement is a main issue around her area, especially since it acts as a crossing point for people trying to get north. The future will inevitably see shifts in population across the globe, and solutions that take this into account will work the best. 

Los Angeles

The Westernmost city in the initiative is Los Angeles.  Former Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa spoke about the actions his administration took to combat climate change, including signing on to the Kyoto Protocol in 2005 at a time when the federal government was not taking initiative. LA reduced its carbon emission to 28% below the protocol, cut air pollution by half during his administration, and signed agreements to get LA completely off coal by 2025.  

Journalist Input

Vann R. Newkirk II from The Atlantic and Abrahm Lustgarten of ProPublica also spoke during the discussion from their perspectives as journalists. In a recent article in the NY Times Magazine, Lustgarten highlighted the coming impact of climate migration - including that around 160 million Americans are likely to find themselves outside of of a comfortable climate niche in the future, explaining “People are going to have to grapple with the idea that they will have to make decisions involuntarily and not necessarily on the path of their lives...the environmental issues cause displacement to become involuntarily.”

Newkirk’s main takeaway was for people to realize that disasters like hurricanes are only the punctuation on the sentence to things that have already been happening. He also discussed the cultural and emotional aspect of climate displacement.  Many times, climate sensitive areas have been inhabited by  residents for hundreds of years. 

“Migration and movement have been part of human history. This is a way that we have evolved as a species”, says Ojetayo. “We should expect this, and the disasters are a good reminder for this and motivation for moving. You have to understand what the earth land is telling you and what the capacity of these areas is.”



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