As climate change brings more extreme temperatures, bigger storms and heavier rainfall, people of all backgrounds are affected. But research has shown that low-income people and people of color are disproportionately impacted. They often live in low-lying areas that flood more or in urban neighborhoods that become “heat islands." They often fall through the cracks when it comes to government disaster assistance.
On Monday city officials released a new plan to try to address those inequities. It’s a collaboration with the Greater New Orleans Foundation and the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.
Tegan Wendland talked with Ramsey Green, Deputy CAO of Infrastructure and Chief Resilience Officer for the City of New Orleans, about what the plan entails.
Q: This report lays out specific goals to make sure that people don't fall through the cracks. So, modernizing energy use, improving transportation choices, reducing waste, and this idea of “creating a culture of awareness,” which is pretty broad. A lot of people worked on this report over the course of the past year. But we chose to talk with you because you're a public official who has some power in enacting some of these things. So what are some concrete examples of what might change?
Green: So much of the conversation around climate change and its impact talk about science and technology and engineering. What's important about this report is it talks about its impact on some of our most vulnerable people. A couple examples would be the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and the mayor's real commitment to making transit a much more viable option to all riders, low-income up to high-income.
Q: And that's related to climate change because of course heavier rains affect people's ability to get around town.
Green: Heavy rains impact people's ability to get around town but it also keeps a lot more cars off the road. It keeps our CO2 emissions down. And additionally the mayor's commitment to cleaning the city up and making sure there's less trash on the streets, less debris in our drainage system. You know there's a reason that during the Cantrell administration a car was pulled out of the St. Louis canal that came in there in August of 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. We’re thoughtfully doing the work while looking at the science and doing the analysis required to keep this city safe. Given the reality of what we're facing as the days go by and the weather changes.
Q: As we experience more extreme temperatures low income people face higher energy bills to stay cool and the plan proposes weatherization projects and more solar power. But residents here face some of the highest energy bill burdens in the country. So how is the city going to work to keep everyone cool as temperatures rise?
Green: I think it's a really important point. In particular, we're exploring cooperative financing mechanisms for example with the Finance Authority of New Orleans where you know what are things you can do to your house. What are things landlords can do to their units that make it more cost efficient for people to live in their units.
Q: We already have a Climate Action Plan that was announced under the Landrieu administration. The city committed to reducing emissions by 50 percent by 2030, which is still a decade away, but what kind of progress are we making towards that goal?
Green: You know the Climate Action Plan was released at a time where, I think it may have been the first city to release one. And that plan, while valuable, I think transactionally, and in terms of management and operations really wasn't in place when LaToya Cantrell came into City Hall where it was institutionalized within our government. We're getting there, we're not where we would like to be, but putting money into green infrastructure and getting projects actually built and taking on things like - how do we make sure our you know energy consumption within our city government is effective and meaningful. Those are things we tackle every day. And I just think it's important to acknowledge that we are more about implementation at this stage than we are about planning.
Q: So are we still committed to that climate action plan?
We're committed but we're fully, I would say we are far more committed to getting the work done, rather than looking at a list of priorities and ensuring that those that were articulated in 2014 or whatever it was, are all accomplished.
Q: It's great to have these aspirational reports on goals around climate change but they're non-binding, so what's really their significance?
Green: Their significance is they articulate problems that this particular region faces. One thing that we have led with, coming in with Mayor Cantrell last year, is to do the things that make the most difference to our residents and be very truthful about the threats that we're facing. We're facing rain events, we're facing heat events that I think cause an amount of jarring in people that have not done so in the past. And that is where our focus is. Getting our money deployed, getting our projects done, and really doing the implementation.
Support for the Coastal Desk comes from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and local listeners.