Using a case study approach in six frontline communities, Just Solutions has developed a Prioritizing Frontline Communities Framework that assesses the “pre-existing” economic, health, and infrastructure conditions that affect the capacity of these communities to cope with, prepare for, and respond to climate change and to participate equitably in the transition to a clean energy economy. This blog examines community-created solutions to these “pre-existing” as the featured communities contend with and respond to climate change.
For an in-depth overview on the conditions examined here, join us for our webinar on October 5th, 2023 at 10 AM PST: “Community-Created Solutions to Climate Vulnerability and Resilience: A Case Study in Six Frontline Communities. Please register here.
Through a case study approach, Just Solutions has developed a Prioritizing Frontline Communities Framework for considering and measuring the adaptive capacity and resilience of frontline communities as they confront climate change. It examines the “pre-existing” conditions in six frontline communities that are among the most vulnerable to and affected by climate change and considers the effects of these conditions on the local capacity to cope with, prepare for, and respond to ongoing climate-related challenges. The six communities are Glacier County, Montana; Holmes County, Mississippi; Hidalgo County, Texas; McDowell County, West Virginia; East End, Bridgeport, Connecticut; and East Las Vegas, Nevada. As a counterpoint to these communities, Marin County, California, which lies just north of San Francisco and is one of the wealthiest counties in the country, is highlighted in the data as well.
In regard to the Economic, Health, and Infrastructure Conditions in these communities, we find that:
- Histories of exploitation, extraction, predatory practices, and divestment have left these communities with high poverty rates, insufficient income, inadequate economic development opportunities, and exorbitant levels of household debt.
- These communities have high rates of chronic health conditions, less access to health insurance and healthcare services, and high levels of household debt, which can frequently involve medical debt.
- Economic conditions also put these communities at higher risk of utility shutoffs, which can affect the treatment of chronic conditions, such as diabetes, kidney disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD) that are heavily reliant on a stable supply of electricity.
- The profiled communities have been hampered by insufficient investment in local infrastructure, including the housing stock and sewage and water systems, for decades. Urban planning efforts that mitigate the effects of climate change, such as tree canopies, have been neglected in these areas.
- The environmental clean-up required from past and present industrial activity has not happened. These factors limit communities’ ability to cope with climate change and puts them at significant risk in the event of climate-related disasters.
- These conditions put these communities at a disadvantage in their ability to meet their day-to-day needs as they contend with climate change or to respond to a natural disaster, public health emergency, or economic crisis.
For more information on our methodology and a brief history of each community profiled, please view our full report.
Despite the difficult conditions these communities face, they all have community strengths, demonstrated adaptive capacity and resilience, and an innovative spirit. We conducted interviews with representatives of each of the communities profiled. Their voices are highlighted throughout the report. In some cases, residents spoke about the assets, challenges, and innovative practices in their communities. In others, those who worked closely in the profiled communities shared their understanding of local conditions.
Those interviewed not only presented compelling evidence of the real-life conditions, community strengths and resilience, and what will be needed to improve community outcomes but also pointed to Community-Created Solutions that are further increasing their capacity to prepare for and respond to climate change, a few of which are described below.
Community-Created Solutions to Economic, Health, and Infrastructure Conditions
Holmes County, Mississippi
One Voice leads an Electric Cooperative Leadership Institute with the Delta Electric Power Association, to member-owners living in rural communities, including Holmes County, to become involved in the leadership of local electric coops. Although most of the residents in these areas are Black, representatives on electric cooperative leadership boards have tended to be majority white. The Leadership Institute seeks to educate and organize residents to generate local economic benefits, address high energy bills, and increase energy efficiency. “Our goal is to make sure that we are creating the next generation of organizers that can advocate for policies and changes within their communities and go head-on with the Board of Directors and say these are the issues we are having, and this is what we feel needs to change,” says Catherine Robinson of One Voice.
East Las Vegas, Nevada
Through a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, partner organizations and the University of Nevada Las Vegas have launched the “Buen Aire Para Todos” – “Clean Air for All” – campaign. The project will monitor both indoor and outdoor air quality in the neighborhood. Sensors will be placed in public areas and in local businesses. Mobile sensors will be installed on participating food trucks. “This project will focus on expanding community awareness education and outreach to help residents better understand air quality measurements and the health impacts of poor air quality and extreme heat,” says Jose Rivera of Make the Road Nevada.
Glacier County, Montana
In the absence of a state Climate Action Plan, the Blackfeet Nation has developed their own plan. According to Termaine Edmo of the Blackfeet Environmental Office, climate action means “protecting our first animals, the beaver and buffalo, and having a protection plan because we look to them as leaders.“
The Beaver Project has been one of the first implementation efforts to come out of the plan. “We use our traditional knowledge to merge requests from science to naturally store water and recharge from groundwater and promote healthy ecosystems and heat stress reduction.,” says Edmo. “Now we’re working with ranchers on climate adaptive strategies, how they can use these on-the-ground projects to sustain their land base. We’ve had a lot of success. Beaver mimicry logs are not currently holding water, it’s just releasing water slowly over time. We’re seeing the beaver mimicry project really enhance our ecosystems and wetlands.”
East End, Bridgeport, Connecticut
Community members are working to revitalize urban areas and to mitigate the effects of climate change. “Groundwork Bridgeport works on revitalizing brownfield lands in post-industrial cities, like Bridgeport, into green spaces and revitalized spaces,” says Christina Smith. “From an equity lens, we work to understand where there’s the lowest tree canopy in the city and then target our efforts in that area, which is the east side, to plant trees.” Such measures reduce both exposure to industrial hazards and extreme heat during climate-related events.
Hidalgo County, Texas
Jaime Longoria of the Hidalgo County Community Service Agency describes how the agency has shifted its focus and leveraged resources to meet the needs of community members. “We are known for assisting families in paying their utility bills, but in the last few years, we have morphed into disaster planning and assistance. We noticed that people were really struggling to bounce back from things like house fires, floods, or hurricanes.” The agency has also identified creative fixes to resource problems. “The families with the lowest incomes are the ones that receive the least assistance or no assistance at all,” says Jaime. “We visited an 80-year-old veteran’s home. The shape of the home was not good enough for FEMA to fix. So FEMA just walked away and determined the structure could not be put back to where it was before, it was unsafe before. Luckily, we had money from a pilot program that Congress allocated through the Community Service Block Grant. It was a disaster funding pilot program to help families living below 200% of federal poverty, that FEMA couldn’t help. We were able to target 60 families across the county.”
McDowell County, West Virginia
With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), advocates are educating community members and preparing them to take advantage of available funding opportunities. In 2021, legislation was passed authorizing Purchase Power Agreements. “Our solar industry has been really booming in the past few years and especially after the power purchase agreements were legalized,” says Morgan King, Facilitator of the West Virginia Climate Alliance & Climate Campaign Coordinator for the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “They can’t keep up with demand. We’re hoping to see community solar legislation be introduced so that people in communities or renters can take advantage of the federal incentives for solar.”
Another recent development derived from listening tours conducted on coal and power plant communities. The West Virginia Coalfield Communities Grant Facilitation Commission was ultimately created by the state legislature as a result of this work, intended to help communities transitioning from coal to have a greater capacity to access funding for resources. While this would enable communities to have greater capacity, to date, positions on the Commission have yet to be filled
The incorporation of community perspectives and solutions on these topics throughout the paper not only grounds and validates the data collected but also recognizes the resilience and capacity of people and communities to determine and create effective and viable solutions to the climate crisis.
This moment of unprecedented climate disasters and federal investments in environmental justice and a clean energy future presents an opportunity for regenerative leadership. It is an opportunity to leverage community assets, ideas, and networks to implement and create change. It also presents an opportunity for environmental and climate justice advocates to join forces with those working in other sectors to improve outcomes related to the “pre-existing conditions” that directly put communities at greater risk. Community leaders, like those profiled here, are leading the way in identifying solutions that will increase adaptive capacity and resilience to cope with, plan for, and respond to climate change in ways that are empowering and restorative.