It makes sense that the City of Cleveland is focused on issues that address the needs of the most challenged communities, since its poverty rates are so significant. More than one-third of Cleveland's residents and half of all children in the city live in poverty. It's because of this that Cleveland faces tremendous climate effects despite the fact that it is not a coastal city. In other words, the city's vulnerability stems from its particularly susceptible population rather than its geographic location. As the Center for American Progress explains below: "One of the most troubling aspects of climate change is the potential for extreme heat, reduced air quality, and other climate effects to disproportionately harm populations that are already grappling with social and economic inequalities."
The health of Cleveland's poorest residents is, of course, taking the brunt of the hit. The silver lining on this cloud is that Cleveland exemplifies incredible local leadership with a holistic approach to climate and poverty. "There has been a major focus on climate equity and neighborhood engagement,” says Matthew Gray, director of the Cleveland Office of Sustainability. The city’s 2013 Climate Action Plan also reflects local dedication to limit their carbon emissions and focus on improving public health.
What can health professionals learn from the example that Cleveland has set? We can utilize community health groups to help implement sustainable practices, work with social service and health care stakeholders to increase support for vulnerable populations, and integrate climate solutions into even in the most impoverished neighborhoods.
By Gwynne Taraska & Hannah Flesch | Thursday, September 17, 2015
As the effects of climate change grow more frequent and severe across the country, it is becoming clear that climate change does not harm all Americans equally. Instead, it takes a particular toll on those who are already struggling with social or financial burdens.
To confront this climate inequality, the city of Cleveland—which faces staggering rates of poverty rivaled only by Detroit—has developed a strong focus on initiatives that address the immediate needs of the most challenged communities while simultaneously building climate resilience. With the seventh annual Sustainable Cleveland Summit currently underway, now is an opportune moment to highlight a selection of Cleveland’s initiatives—as well as its progressive, integrated approach to addressing climate change and poverty—in the hope that they might serve as templates for other urban areas.
Regional effects of climate change and the link to poverty
Cleveland faces serious climate effects despite being outranked by cities such as Miami and Sacramento in terms of climate vulnerability. The Midwest region has already experienced increases in average annual temperature and intense precipitation—which has contributed to the decline of Cleveland’s aging infrastructure. These temperature and precipitation trends will persist in the coming years, according to the National Climate Assessment. Meanwhile, air and water quality are expected to deteriorate. In the Cleveland-Toledo area, which spans the northern swath of the state adjacent to Lake Erie, electricity demand and energy costs are projected to rise over the course of the century while labor productivity is projected to decline.
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