Climate change and race: How can extreme weather events impact Black and Brown Livelihood, well-being and socioeconomic mobility?

By Naghmana Sherazi The Black Lens

Extreme weather events such as devastating wildfires, brutal heat and cold, wildfire smoke, and extreme flooding are just a few of the examples of how Climate Change is affecting our region.

The Inland Northwest had a low amount of snowfall across our region this year. Where there would normally be 15 feet of snow on Mt. Spokane by mid-January, only 40 inches was reported. Spokane is a sole source aquifer city, with the river running through it, where most of the City’s water comes from. We use it to bathe, water our lawns, play in and use it for daily living. A low snowpack means less water when it melts. With warmer days and whatever snow there was, mostly melted – get ready to conserve water the rest of the year. You may have heard those calls to water your lawn every other day and in the evening, or swap your grass for a drought friendly landscape. This is all because of changing weather patterns – or Climate Change that affects all of us, at every level, but most of the injustice and harm is centered in black and brown communities..

Climate Justice is a concept that recognizes that climate change disproportionately affects low-income communities and communities of color. It also refers to solutions to the root causes of climate change and other social, racial, and environmental injustices. The disproportionality in communities of color stems from discriminatory practices like “redlining” or “steering” in renting and home buying that restricted communities of color from or to certain neighborhoods with certain characteristics.

It is imperative that we have policies that specifically consider our communities of color. How a policy that is going to be put into place through the legislature, or our City, or County will affect people who are already overburdened and do not have the wherewithal to pivot at the drop of a hat in case there is an extreme weather event, and what resources will specific communities need and how will they access it.

The heat dome that killed 20 people in Spokane County in 2021 was such an event. Too many of us suffered because we did not have shade from trees to cool down our backyards and streets. The heat was so intense the air conditioners stopped cooling effectively and good luck finding a replacement in the middle of a heat wave. The City’s Parks and Rec Dept and The Lands Council (TLC) partner on a program called SpoCanopy, where trees are planted in the ‘right of way’ or the strip between the street and private property, with a focus on areas that have low urban canopy cover. Since 2012, over 127,000 trees have been planted in lower urban canopy cover neighborhoods. Studies have found neighborhoods with lower median income have lower canopy cover – this reflects an equity issue and TLC’s focus is to plant in East and West central, North Spokane, and other areas in the City that have low canopy cover. The City’s goal is to bring up the average canopy cover to 30 % (currently it is 22%), by the year 2030.

Sherazi is the Climate Justice Program Director at the Lands Council. To get more information on how you can help plant trees in our neighborhoods, go to the Spring SpoCanopy planting drive here: