Climate change is happening and the U.S. and other right-wing nations aren’t going to do anything about it. Who will suffer? The poor, of course. Here is how this plays out in Tucson, one of America’s hottest cities.
A few years ago, city and county officials mapped tree canopies and shade throughout Tucson. The results showed that in northern and eastern Tucson, where the city’s wealthier residents live, the tree canopy is expansive. But south of 22nd Street, home to many of the city’s low-income and minority residents, shade is scarce to nonexistent. And its absence shows: The south side can be up to 5 degrees hotter than the greener neighborhoods to its north.
This disparity will only worsen as the climate continues to change. The Southwest is projected to warm by as much as 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100. In Tucson, rising temperatures will be further amplified by the urban heat island, a phenomenon linked to rooftops and asphalt roads, which absorb more heat from the sun during the day than natural surfaces and then radiate it at night. The effect is particularly pronounced in the sparsely vegetated parts of the city where people of color and low-income residents live. Those areas are expected to heat up more quickly and be less equipped to buffer the changes with costly amenities like air conditioning. Here, extreme heat could lead to more hospital visits and even deaths.
Planting trees and using captured stormwater to irrigate them could help a lot. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in the hottest part of the day, shaded areas can be 20 to 45 degrees cooler than unshaded spaces. To grow more vegetation, the city of Tucson has created programs to encourage installation of rainwater-harvesting cisterns and stormwater collection basins. But so far, the programs have disproportionately benefited the more affluent areas of the city, where they are least needed.
And when cities like Tucson try programs to mitigate issues, they don’t work because they don’t take accessibility and cultural capital seriously.
Similar access problems have arisen with a new neighborhood program, which distributes up to $45,000 a year to each of Tucson’s six wards for small stormwater harvesting projects — things like water collection basins and curb cuts, which funnel water from the street into landscaped medians or parks. Romero proposed the program to add vegetation to more heat-stressed parts of the city. But the City Council ultimately decided that any funding opportunity had to be equally available to every part of the city. “Well, we all know that equal does not mean equitable,” Romero says. Out of the 20 applications received in the first year of the program, 18 were in two of the city’s more affluent wards.
It wasn’t that these projects weren’t of interest to people living in poorer neighborhoods. It was that the process of qualifying for the funding — developing a project plan and filling out an extensive application — was harder for communities with less resources. In some of the areas Romero represents, “people work and have two to three jobs,” she explained, leaving them less time to participate in civic life. Additionally, there are few neighborhood associations on the south side. That’s another barrier, because most of the city’s outreach about funding opportunities is funneled through these groups.
But hey, if we just tax carbon use, I’m sure the poor will love bearing the burden of the issue and not revolt or anything. The market always works!