Climate Burden

By Kyle Deschenes and Marliz Arteaga Gomez Garcia | December 20, 2017

Warm. Warmer. Even warmer. This temperature forecast looks like something you’d see as spring turns to summer. In fact, it’s North Central Florida’s future.

“The last 20 months in North Central Florida were hotter than normal,” says David Zierden, Florida’s state climatologist. It’s now not a matter of if climate change will affect our region, but when it will become more conspicuous.

Specifically, Zierden says our region can expect higher-than-average overnight temperatures in the months and years to come; that’s been the clear trend.

Another effect of climate change in North Central Florida, explains Zierden, is the probability of more-extreme rainfall events. Higher temperatures lead to greater water evaporation. More water in the atmosphere means more rain.

Though climate change impacts us all, it presents a greater burden for those living in poverty. Some of Gainesville’s lowest-income neighborhoods are also prone to flooding, a factor in longer recovery times after Hurricane Irma. Increasing rains also increase the potential for flooding and displacement.

Energy experts say warming temperatures will also worsen the energy burden faced by poor residents, who face high utility bills and may live in inefficient homes without basics such as attic insulation. About a fifth of households in some of Gainesville’s lowest-income areas do not have air conditioning, according to Census and property appraiser data. Many low-income residents with A/C report they can’t turn it on because it’s too expensive.

But it doesn’t have to be that way, say advocates for Gainesville’s poor, and for energy conservation. The temperature and rainfall trends make easing the energy burden on Gainesville’s poor a matter of community resilience: readying the region and its residents for climate change and its impacts. It also can, and should, become a priority, says Jason Fults, a board member and volunteer with the Community Weatherization Coalition.

While some issues seem to pit the economy against the environment, this one is a matter of watching out for people, their pocketbooks and the planet, says Fults. Low-income residents living in inefficient homes “are faced with the choice of either being uncomfortable in their homes or having very high electric bills,” he says. Meanwhile every kilowatt-hour and gallon of water people save helps lower the carbon emissions that are warming the earth.

Helping the poor shore up their homes is an issue “for anyone who is concerned about equity,” Fults says, “and the future of life on our planet.”

Up next: Climate of Change at Habitat »