With contributions by Lindsey Wallace, Di Gao, and Priya Chhaya
Lying at the intersection of climate change and racial equity, climate equity addresses issues related to health, affordability, accessibility, cultural preservation, community capacity, and accountability.
Climate equity asks us to examine the unjust burden on racially oppressed and/or economically oppressed communities, typically Black and Indigenous communities, in terms of climate change.
As global temperatures rise by 2 degrees (Celsius), currently habitable areas will become uninhabitable due to rising and variant temperatures and extreme weather conditions, displacing many communities that cannot survive in areas with climate damage to food and water systems, infrastructure, and other utilities. Without any action, climate change will perpetuate and accelerate displacement of communities, creating thousands of climate refugees.
For preservationists, climate equity and justice is connected to everything:
- The planning of communities: how we enact and changing zoning policies; how we create density and connectivity; how we plan for sustainability
- The building of communities: how we adaptively reuse historic buildings or build new green buildings; how we incorporate technology
- The maintenance of communities: how we maintain (or don’t maintain) infrastructure and utilities servicing communities
- The allocation of resources to/not to communities: The policies at the federal, state, and municipal levels, the economic incentives, the community development policies, etc.
Climate change actions rest on a spectrum of consent and participation, ranging from the individual to the household, the community to the corporation, to all units of government both local and global.
A multi-faceted, innovative, and comprehensive strategy is needed to combat climate equity issues related to climate change. Architects, planners, engineers, and historic preservationists can advocate for many of these concepts within their professions and develop interdisciplinary solutions that benefits everyone, equitably. Climate equity is necessary for a just future, and the first step is raising awareness to the kinds of advancements in design, planning, and policy.
The resource list below provides some general information, with some more focused readings on the intersection of preservation and climate equity. This resource is developed in partnership with the Preservation Priorities Task Force—a collaboration between the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Preservation Partners Network.
Introductory Resources for Climate Equity
Webpage: U.S. Department of State’s “Climate Crisis” Policy Page
This page details both a national and global perspective on climate change, as well as cross-references to the UN Climate Change Conference, economic initiatives around renewable energy job creation, and other associated federal government climate crisis information from the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Exhibit Site: Climates of Inequality, Humanities Action Lab Project
Many policies and systems have led us to the current climate crisis, and the Climates of Inequality multimedia exhibit installation features case studies of 22 cities throughout the United States and the world that examine the historic context of these environmental justice issues. The case studies feature themes such as water pollution, hurricanes, blight and demolition, riverside communities, food shortages, earthquakes, agricultural workers, and much more. Through these histories, we can better understand the root causes of environmental and climate inequities.
Academic Article: “Climate Change Through the Lens of Intersectionality,” by Anna Kaijser and Annica Kronsell, in Environmental Politics, volume 23, issue 3, May 2014.
A discussion of equity and justice should also include intersectionality, or the consideration of the unique experiences and perspectives that individuals and communities bring to issues. This academic article investigates how an intersectional approach can help combat Climate Change, and most importantly: how power and agency play a significant role in how certain individuals select which Climate Change policies and interventions to pursue. A top-down approach to climate change solutions involving energy, land use, etc. could exacerbate inequity for already marginalized groups; intersectionality is one strategy for ensuring more diverse viewpoints.
Website: The Climate Equity Reference Project (CERP)
CERP is a long-term initiative designed to provide scholarship, tools, and analysis to advance global climate equity as a value in itself and as a realist path towards an ambitious global climate regime.
Also check out the NAACP’s issue page on Environmental and Climate Justice.
Preservation Approaches to Climate Equity
Journal: Issues in Preservation Policy: Preservation, Sustainability, Equity
Published in 2021, this journal from Columbia University, contains several pieces that focus on climate justice issues, including a literature review on the intersection of sustainability and equity in preservation.
Read more about this issue in this piece by National Trust for Historic Preservation's Senior Policy Director Jim Lindberg's article The Reuse Imperative.
Climate Action Plan: Resilient Heritage in the Nation’s Oldest City, City of St. Augustine, contributors: PlaceEconomics, Taylor Engineering, Inc., The Craig Group, Archaeological Consultants, Inc., & Marquis Latimer + Halback, Project Report, August 2020
This comprehensive plan for a historic district along the coastline features a section on a Climate Action Plan in reaction to climate change and extreme weather changes. This list, while specific to the municipality of St. Augustine, could be implemented in part in other historic coastal cities. The plan recommends: analyzing climate change and rising sea level in future comprehensive land use planning reports; developing new deed restrictions to encourage future property redevelopment into wetlands; studying social impacts of climate change in vulnerable communities; and identifying vulnerable cultural resources and water, sewage, and other infrastructure systems.
Article: Climate Gentrification: Why We Need to Consider Social Justice in Climate Change Planning
This short resource on climate gentrification explains “the growing concept in which some properties become more valuable than others due to their ability to better accommodate settlement and infrastructure in the face of climate change,” from the Global Resilience Institute at Northeastern University. The article provides some basic background on the intersection of climate justice and planning along with some additional reading.
Presentation: Dr. Kalamaoka’aina Niheu, “Indigenous Resistance in an Era of Climate Change Crisis,” for the John A. Burns School of Medicine, March 2022
For an indigenous perspective on climate change, Dr. Niheu’s lecture touches on the themes of colonialism, occupation, and capitalism that have negatively impacted indigenous communities and perpetuate our climate crisis today. Understanding the historic context of injustices inflicted on indigenous communities in the past, as well as the current injustices experienced by indigenous intervention today, can help us better envision what climate equity should look like. Dr. Niheu emphasizes the value of culture, healing, and sustainability knowledge for moving forward. Full article behind paywall.
Documentary: Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek
Come Hell or High Water: The Battle for Turkey Creek tells the inspiring story of Derrick Evans, a Boston teacher who moves home to coastal Mississippi when the graves of his ancestors are bulldozed to make way for the sprawling city of Gulfport. Taking place over a decade, Evans and neighbors face a “struggle for self-determination and environmental justice.”
Website: Isle de St Charles Resettlement Project
This website offers a look at the Isle de Jean Charles Resettlement, a federally funded, first-of-its-kind effort offering resettlement options to current and former residents of Isle de Jean Charles in the face of land loss caused by erosion and natural disasters attributed to climate change. The website reveals the process behind resettlement and the ways in which the plan has been structured to be a model for other communities facing the same challenges.
Program Overview: Louisiana Bayou Culture Collaborative
Initiated by the Louisiana Folklore Society, the Bayou Culture Collaborative is a project in partnership with the Louisiana Division of the Arts Folklife Program to offer strategies to ensure the preservation of traditional cultures of coastal Louisiana.
Jordan Ryan is an architectural historian, archivist, and principal owner of The History Concierge LLC. Their scholarship revolves around the built environment, urban planning, historic preservation, and spatial equity.