What is Climate Justice? Why do we care?

Rising temperatures, increasing frequency and severity of storms, fires, and floods, rising sea
levels, air pollution – these phenomena, strung together paint a hellscape that ought to
mobilize us all, yet we live in perpetual denial. Life is busy, and for now it goes on. There is little doubt among most, that climate change is an imminent threat to our world as we know it, but what we don’t hear enough talk of is who it will harm most, and how soon. Communities of
color, and low-income regions already face the realities of climate change – a trend that will
only continue to worsen. Climate justice is a concept that addresses the ethical and civil rights
aspect of climate change, through advocacy, research, and policy. Many of the approaches
needed are costly, but none near as costly as failing to address disaster before it hits.

Extreme Heat
Extreme temperatures have been an obvious outcome of climate change already. In the
north, that has meant devastatingly cold winters with polar vortexes, power outages, and
preventable deaths. In the south, it has meant the opposite. The past 7 years have all placed
within the top seven hottest years on record. Miami now sees an average of 133 high heat
days, 27 more than was average in 1995. This is expected to continue to rise. Extreme heat has
contributed to 12,000 deaths per year in the U.S. from 2010-2020. The National Weather
Service reports that extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the U.S. Health
risks of extreme heat include heat cramps, heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and death. It can also
exacerbate existing conditions.

Black and Hispanic people bear the brunt of these public health impacts. The average
temperature can vary drastically based upon zip codes due to factors such as less tree cover
and more heat-absorbing concrete. In Miami’s lower income, mostly Black and Latino
neighborhoods like Little Haiti, Little Havana and Liberty City, tree cover can be as little as 10%,
compared to around 40% in upscale coastal areas. In the first image below (Left), dark green is
healthy vegetation and light green to white are more urban areas with depleted to no
vegetation. These less green areas correspond to hotter temperatures (Right).

Further, these lower-income areas have insufficient infrastructure to handle heat
emergencies. In what is now America’s least affordable housing market, the high cost of
running air-conditioning forces people to choose how often they can afford to even run the air
conditioning, and when they need to face the heat to cut costs. People living under the poverty
line are 50% more likely to experience the effects of heat islands than those of higher income
urban areas. Fill out this survey to help document these rising temperatures.
Miami has recently created a Climate and Heat Health Task Force and appointed a Chief
Heat Officer, working to address these disparities that predominantly impact minorities. There
is much that needs to be done to address this root issue, but is a vital step in the right direction.

The Miami Foundation has released a Miami-Dade Extreme Heat Toolkit, which further outlines
the catastrophic heat trends we are seeing here in Miami, as well as critical steps that need to
be taken to assuage the threat our high temperatures impose on at risk populations. MCARE
stands behind these recommendations in strong support. They include but are not limited to
measures that increase green spaces and playgrounds. Shade for bus stops is also vital for those who rely in public transit to commute. We need to set a statewide standard for outdoor
workers to receive adequate water, shade and rest. Additionally, implementation of cooling
centers, a cool site, or airconditioned building designated as a safe location during extreme
heat, is a common strategy that Miami also needs to implement for the safety of our high-risk

Storms and Hurricanes
Climate change has already led to an increase in frequency and severity of hurricanes, as
well as a longer hurricane season overall. It is predicted that around a million Miami-Dade
residents are a bad storm away from upheaval and houselessness. About a third of houses build before 1990 are at high risk for wind damage, mold, or even complete destruction. 70% of the counties ~1,000,000 single family homes, condos and townhomes were built before 1990, after which stricter building codes were implemented. These, of course, are houses inhabited by Miami’s lowest income, predominantly Black and Hispanic residents. These most vulnerable
neighborhoods include some of the counties lowest income, such as Little Haiti, Overtown,
Liberty City, Homestead, Opa-Locka, west Coconut Grove and North Miami.

We need to take preventative action to fortify this infrastructure and protect its
inhabitants from this destruction. Miami Homes for All has projected that the current shortage
of 121,820 units affordable and available to households earning less than $35,000 a year will
expand to 160,460 units by 2030. As housing costs in Miami rise at an uncontrolled rate, we
cannot afford to loss any of our affordable homes to natural disaster. We also need to focus
more funding and attention towards disaster response readiness and emergency shelter
availability ahead of a forecast storm.

Through our Climate Justice Campaign, we aim to raise awareness and advocate for these
critical issues. We aim to make our stance clear: Climate change poses a critical and immediate
threat to society, and it will disproportionately harm Black and Hispanic people of low income.
We will achieve this through several approaches:

  • We will publish opinion pieces in news outlets to increase awareness of relevant issues
    on this topic
  • We will actively support or oppose relevant local and national policies
  • We will work alongside local advocates as a coalition to push for actionable steps to
    address these issues highlighted above (Including but not limited to- increased green
    spaces & tree cover, cooling centers, protections for outdoor workers, disaster
    readiness & hurricane shelter preparedness, expand affordable housing and existing
    affordable housing fortification etc.)
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