Study after study shows that climate change is having the largest effect on those that have the fewest resources to cope with it and also have done the least to cause it. But what is even more disturbing is that often people who fall into this category are often unaware of climate change threats that are barreling towards them.
Case in point is the very rare tropical storm Hilary that hit California, including Los Angeles, on August 22, 2023. Mutual aid groups that interact regularly with portions of the estimated 70,000 unhoused people in the LA area, found that almost nobody knew that a tropical storm was on its way and so most didn’t know that they should be seeking shelter or were able to secure their shelter and belongings against the oncoming deluge of rain and high winds. Check out stunning pictures of the storm’s aftermath.
Reports from the deadly fires in Maui seem to indicate confusion around alerting residents and although it is hard to figure out whether timely evacuation orders were received in Greece there seems to be credible reporting that many of the fatalities were among migrants who may have just arrived and probably wouldn’t not have been able to understand any evacuation warnings.
What can be done so that the most vulnerable are less at risk from the damaging consequences of climate change exacerbated or caused disasters like wildfires or storms? First is not to rely on high tech alerting systems since loss of power and the resulting poor cellphone connectivity may be early victims of the disaster. A better approach is to educate and prepare everyone as to where to go in an emergency and how to respond and to have low tech alerting methods as a fall back (i.e. text messaging, sirens).
Municipal and higher levels governments should consider hiring a full-time, year round extreme weather response coordinator who can help to get emergency systems in place and evaluate alerting programs to make sure that they are robust and equitable. And all of us can do our part by continuing to demand that our governments move quickly to cut GHG emissions that are contributing to climate change that is hurting the most vulnerable.