By Ren Sandretto-Chang

“People who are already vulnerable, including lower-income and other marginalized communities, have lower capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events and are expected to experience greater impacts. Prioritizing adaptation actions for the most vulnerable populations would contribute to a more equitable future within and across communities.”

Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment, Volume II (p. 25).

It’s easy to see climate change as a distant threat, but Americans, especially lower-income Americans, are already experiencing its effects. For instance, as the average temperature rises, so does the annual number of days above 100˚F in Madison. Since lower-income people are more likely to live without cooling units, which are quite expensive to run, they suffer more heat stroke and other health problems during each heatwave.

Extreme weather events are also occurring more frequently, and they are far more difficult to navigate for lower-income people. In the case of widespread property damage, large numbers of renters can find themselves suddenly without housing, not to mention that property managers for lower-income apartments and housing are often not motivated to adequately prepare buildings for natural disasters, or repair them in the aftermath. As many people search for temporary housing at the same time, the most economically vulnerable people often find themselves homeless and/or unable to commute to their jobs, and often find added inconvenience in navigating road and infrastructure damage in their communities as a result of a natural disaster. It is clear that poor infrastructure is exacerbated after a natural disaster.

Climate Change is not an abstract problem. It is a local issue that affects all citizens of Madison. In 2018, record-setting levels of rainfall in Madison made roads inaccessible and resulted in widespread road and property damage. Our city government has taken action to improve stormwater drainage since this occurred, but concerns still remain about what a future flood in Madison would look like.

Temperatures in the summer continue to rise in Madison. As recently as August 2021, temperatures 9º above the normal high were recorded, with heat indexes nearing 100. Rising temperatures bring increased health risks, as well as a strain on our electrical grid as it works to cool more homes.

We may not be able to control the rain and high temperatures, but we can advocate for changes that will make our communities resilient in the face of those challenges.

What Can You Do?

There are many ways you can take action to fight for climate justice.

  1. If you want the City of Madison to act more effectively to achieve climate justice, click here to find your alder and send them a message. Your message can be as simple as, “I ask that you take action to ensure that lower-income people are not disproportionately harmed by the effects of climate change that our city already is experiencing.”
  2. If you want to volunteer but your time is limited, consider signing up for 350 Madison’s Action Participation List. You will be contacted periodically with quick actions you can take to support climate-forward policies in Madison and its surrounding communities.
  3. If you have more time, consider volunteering with a local climate action organization. 350 Madison has Climate Justice and Community Climate Solutions Campaign Teams that are advocating for equitable, local policy changes on this front.

Ren Sandretto-Chang is a Madison 10th-grader. He wrote this in response to a request to 350 Madison from a city alder.