Today, the causes and consequences of climate change are more widely accepted than ever. Global leaders agree we must reduce the amount of carbon in our atmosphere and create more climate-resilient communities — and the clock is ticking.
It’s been the task of a generation — my generation — to bring the picture of our planet’s future into ever-sharper focus. But so far, the steps we’ve taken to meet this challenge have been too few and too small.
That’s the message from this week’s youth-led Global Climate Strikes. In growing numbers, young people on every continent have been taking to the streets to demand meaningful action for climate justice. And as world leaders gather in New York City next week for the United Nations Climate Action Summit, the youth are inviting the adults to join their protests and support their calls for change.
Today’s young people already understand that they’re facing the consequences of our inaction. They can see firsthand that climate change is already here, and that it does not and will not affect everybody equally: in many parts of the United States, low-income communities and communities of color are more vulnerable to hotter temperatures, more powerful storms, and worsening floods.
For instance, climate models predict that by the end of the century, Oakland, California, will see 15 times the number of 90-degree days it experiences today (in a metro area where fewer than half of homes have air conditioning). The climate itself will not discriminate: everybody will feel the heat. But in Oakland, and across America low-income residents are more likely to live in hotter neighborhoods.
On hot days, urban infrastructure like buildings and concrete absorb and intensify heat, meaning neighborhoods with less greenery heat up more than neighborhoods with plenty of trees and parks. But in Oakland, as in many cities around the country, low-income neighborhoods have more concrete, fewer trees, and smaller parks than wealthier parts of town. This green space disparity contributes to higher rates of heat-related illness in low-income neighborhoods, and as summer temperature soar, that risk will only increase.
The Equitable & Just National Climate Platform calls for a national climate policy agenda that will mobilize the investments needed to make our communities resilient to climate change, prioritizing those that are most vulnerable. Parks and green space are an integral part of keeping our cities livable as the climate changes. According to NOAA, a green, shady park on a hot day in Washington, DC, was 17 degrees cooler than the hottest parts of surrounding neighborhoods. To understand what this feels like, just ask any kid who has to spend their recess playing on an asphalt schoolyard. On a recent 74-degree day in Oakland, Trust for Public Land staff and students at Cesar Chavez Educational Center measured the temperatures of the schoolyard surfaces at a sweltering 132 degrees.
Today, I’m in Washington, DC, standing with the youth climate strikers who are calling for climate action, rooted in a spirit of justice and equity. In part, that means protecting land and building parks where they’re needed most so the climate benefits of nature — capturing and storing carbon, cooling the air, absorbing stormwater, and reducing flood risk — are available to every community, particularly the most vulnerable.