CalMatters
By Amee Raval and Sona Mohnot

Californians have faced droughts, heat waves, wildfires and other climate-fueled crises that seem to break records every year. But while climate change impacts everyone, the experience can feel dramatically different depending on who you are and where you live.

Consider a severe heat wave. In an affluent suburb with tree-lined streets and an abundance of air conditioning, most residents might experience a little inconvenience but will largely stay out of serious danger. In an economically struggling farmworker community in the Central Valley, that same heat wave could be deadly

In the aftermath of wildfires in Ventura County, many undocumented farmworkers could not take paid leave and instead continued working in the fields amid dangerous air pollution levels without protective masks.

Power outages present health risks for people who rely on electrically powered medical equipment, not to mention serious mobility challenges for wheelchair users during evacuation orders.

We could go on with examples all day. But simply put: climate change acts as a threat multiplier that magnifies differences in income, race, health, zip codes, immigration status, housing, and other factors that determine whether a community can access the resources needed to cope and recover from climate disasters.

As we work to increase our climate resilience–that is, the ability of communities to adapt and thrive in the face of impacts from climate change–we need to be able to identify the communities that face the biggest threats. And then we need to make sure they have the resources they need. That takes conscious effort.

California is starting to make important decisions about climate resilience, but we’re doing it without the tools we need to identify and assist those most at risk. So our two organizations, the Asian Pacific Environmental Network and The Greenlining Institute, have come together to jumpstart the process of creating those tools while we still have time to prepare.

New research from the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, “Mapping Resilience: A Blueprint for Thriving in the Face of Climate Disasters,” points to a critical need for applying an interactive mapping tool that layers all the various social, health and environmental factors that can contribute to, or add protections from, climate threats.

Such a  framework can provide essential information for state and local leaders tasked with making important decisions and appropriately prioritizing communities that face the biggest threats.

The good news is that the climate threat assessment tool we need is well within reach, with many of the needed indicators already in use across dozens of existing frameworks. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together in a streamlined, usable form.

But once we’ve identified the people and places facing the biggest threats, then what? We want to help them prepare, but how do we turn those good intentions into reality? That’s where Greenlining’s research can help.

Greenlining reviewed over 30 California policies and grant programs and spoke to dozens of experts, distilling the findings into “Making Equity Real in Climate Adaptation and Community Resilience Grant Programs and Policies: A Guidebook.”

The Guidebook lays out step-by-step instructions for building climate resilience policies that focus on equity, policies designed to ensure that communities can survive and thrive, even when faced with limited resources.

Greenlining’s framework shows policymakers how to consider not just physical threats like heat and sea level rise, but the factors that make them worse, like income levels and access to health care. And it provides guidance for addressing them while making sure policies center the experience and wisdom of our frontline communities, recognizing that community members have real expertise that even well-intended outsiders lack.

Climate change is here. How we prepare for its impact will determine whether we survive, or even come out thriving. California’s policymakers will need all the help they can get. We offer our research as a humble start.

Amee Raval is Senior Policy Researcher at the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, amee@apen4ej.org. Sona Mohnot is Environmental Equity Senior Program Manager at The Greenlining Institutesonam@greenlining.org. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.