For generations, the NAACP has helped advance civil rights and strengthen racial equity in the United States. Today, this work includes the fight against climate change and its impacts.
As climate change causes sea levels to rise and storms become more extreme, the risk of flooding increases, especially in low-lying coastal communities. Flooding can be dangerous. And it can cause significant damage to homes and businesses. Therefore, subsequent recovery may require expensive repairs.
Jacqueline Patterson is Senior Director of the Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP. She says low-income communities and communities of color are often the most vulnerable to flooding. And they can have the most difficulty recovering afterwards.
So, to educate people about these risks and how to advocate for equitable solutions, the NAACP offered a free training program and certification in fair and equitable response to sea level rise and sea level rise. flood management. During each two-day training, participants learned from representatives of the NAACP, nonprofit Climate Central and other partner organizations how global warming is increasing coastal flooding and how to assess the risks to their particular communities. . And they learned strategies for engaging with local organizations and policy makers to lobby for equitable solutions.
Yale Climate Connections spoke with Patterson about the program – and why it’s so essential. Here is a slightly edited transcript of that discussion.
YCC: Why are communities of color particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding?
Jacqueline Patterson: Communities of color are more likely to be coastal. If you look at the demographic map of the United States, there are more people living in places along the coast than in other places.
[And within these communities,] people of color are more likely to have homes located in floodplains, which means that in the event of a flood, they are more likely to have their homes flooded.
Also, because of historical racism and so on, [the wealth in communities of color] is lower, and people often can only afford to buy homes in places with lower property values. And many of the resources around infrastructure – whether it’s levees or whatever – are directly tied to property values.
Seven years after Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Isaac passed through and flooded the parish of Plaquemines, which is a [Louisiana] parish mostly made up of low-income people. And when that area was flooded by Hurricane Isaac, we found out that the Army Corps of Engineers used a formula to determine which dikes they were going to fortify after Katrina. They award points to each dike based on the economic impact it would have if it were exceeded. It’s based on funding models based on property values and property taxes. All of this cost-benefit analysis – the way formulas are used to make decisions – often comes at the expense of the most vulnerable communities. Thus, the communities that are the most vulnerable, who have the lowest land values, are the least likely to have the protection they need against flood waters.
[Another reason communities of color are more vulnerable] is that toxic facilities are more likely to be in communities of color. We know that [as of 2002] 71% of African Americans live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards, and that an African-American family earning $ 50,000 a year is more likely to live next to a toxic facility than a white American family earning $ 15,000. And when flooding does occur and these toxic facilities are flooded, it means piles of coal ash or other toxic sludge end up leaking into the streets and backyards and even into the homes of surrounding communities. these facilities. And again, these are most likely to be [Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, or BIPOC] communities and in particular African-American communities. After Hurricane Harvey, I was walking around a particular community and saw the kids playing in the water as a result, and there was a toxic facility nearby, and I just watched the kids play and I was wondering what that there was in this water that they were playing?
Finally, homeowners in BIPOC communities and low income communities are less likely to have flood insurance clauses, even though we are more likely to live in flood plains. When we experienced the 2011 floods down south and a lot of flooding that has occurred since then – in Baton Rouge from 2016 – we were visiting the communities. And we talked to people who would either say they either don’t have insurance at all, because they own their home and have to make spending choices, pay money. every month for something that strength it just falls apart, compared to paying to put food on the table or energy or something you know you need in real time. And so, if people own their homes, it would be an unnecessary expense if other things are urgent.
And then there are also the people we would meet who thought they have been insured because they had home insurance. And then, when they were going to file a claim, they would find out that it doesn’t matter if they have home insurance: they don’t have the flood insurance clause. And too many people we met did not have this critical flood insurance clause.
YCC: What are the objectives of the NAACP Fair and Equitable Management of Sea Level Rise and Flood Certification Training? With what skills do the participants leave?
Jacqueline Patterson: The objectives of the program are to equip communities to be able to assess and predict the impacts of sea level rise and flooding in their communities – as well as what sea level rise and the floods they could experience in the next two years, and the next five years, 10 years, 20 years. We help communities learn how to use the Surging Seas Risk Finder tool offered by Climate Central to truly be able to be investigators and assessors of their risks.
And then, secondly, that the communities know what resources are at their disposal, whether financial, technical or informational. We therefore help them find out what information is available, as well as who is over there. We help them build relationships with groups like Climate Central, NOAA, the Sea Grant program, the Association of State Floodplain Managers. We connect them to people and help build and strengthen those relationships, so they work hand in hand.
Participants also acquire the skills to be able to advocate for the changes they want in their communities, as well as to be able to engage with their communities to facilitate the vision of the changes they want: thus visualize, plan, then advocate for change.
The vision can include infrastructure planning, and so communities come away with the skills to know what infrastructure options are available to them, but also the skills to build consensus around planned retirement. So if all the signs, looking at the Risk Finder tool and Surging Seas, indicate that it is only a matter of time before the land on which a community lives is not habitable, like the Strip of the Isle of Jean Charles de la Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw [Tribe] found, we want to make sure that communities know how to build to develop and implement community processes to determine how they will engage and manage the retreat if it becomes necessary. So community building, community vision, community planning skills are essential.
YCC: How can equity be centered on community responses to flooding and the growing threat of sea level rise?
Jacqueline Patterson: We need much better and more inclusive decision-making processes. We need participatory budgeting processes, budget transparency and community engagement to prioritize how the money is spent. Without a participatory budgeting process, budget transparency, and community engagement in prioritizing how money is spent, there have been times when local officials prioritize spending in a way that does not prioritize the needs of the people. communities.
And instead of mere community advisory boards, the community decision making in how funding is allocated and how planning takes place at the municipal level and even at the state level. With that, we’re starting to see the kinds of changes we need to see when it comes to making big investments in the places that need it most, as opposed to what all too often happens when political influences follow financial interests.
We must therefore replace financial interests with the heart and concern of the most vulnerable communities and people in our society. We have to start there, and then know that if we plan around the most vulnerable people, everyone will benefit.