A Just Rebuilding After Climate Catastrophes Means Investing in Low-Income Communities

For Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico, two paths lie ahead.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

The latest scientific evidence tells us that climate change will make major storms and hurricanes not only more frequent, but more destructive. Yet not everyone will experience these events in the same way.

In the United States, low-income coastal communities already living on the front lines of inequality with a lack of economic opportunities, affordable housing and infrastructure will continue to be hit the hardest. As we have seen in recent weeks with hurricane Irma, Harvey, and Maria, vulnerable populations are especially endangered by climate catastrophes. 

Immigrants, the working poor and communities of color often cannot afford flood insurance. At the same time, they usually don't have the resources or transportation to evacuate, so they are left in precarious housing conditions as storms and hurricanes cut off their electricity and access to services.

For Florida, Texas and Puerto Rico, two paths lie ahead. 

One path involves a business-as-usual approach. Major corporations, real-estate investors, and other powerful financial interests will push to maximize profits from government-backed rebuilding and recovery efforts, increasing the inequality in coastal communities and leaving residents just as vulnerable—if not more vulnerable—to the ravages of climate change. 

This is what Naomi Klein has called "disaster capitalism."

The other path would focus on investing rebuilding and recovery dollars into thousands of career-oriented jobs for low-income residents, more affordable housing, and major infrastructure upgrades. All of those investments will dramatically reduce inequality over time, boosting environmental protection, and strengthening waterfront areas.

New York can offer important lessons for how to pursue a just rebuilding and recovery process, instead of an exploitative and unfair one. 

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