Scientists develop environmental justice lens to identify neighborhoods vulnerable to climate change

ORNL scientists have created a geodemographic cluster for the Atlanta subway area that identifies risk factors related to climate impacts. Credit: ORNL / US Dept. of Energy

A new ability to identify urban neighborhoods, up to the block level and buildings that are most vulnerable to climate change, can help ensure that mitigation and sustainability programs reach the people who need them most.

This method, developed by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory of the Department of Energy, is based on a study of environmental justice – a key aspect of the federal government’s strategy to manage the adverse effects of climate change. But so far, scientists have had limited tools to assess and ultimately predict socioeconomic risks from environmental events, especially when multiple forms of vulnerability interact with each other.

“Climate modelers are very good at telling us exactly when and where bad things will happen in the physical world. But we also need to think about where people are,” said Christa Brelsford of ORNL. “Most of the world’s population lives in cities. To analyze climate risk, we need to think about impacts and vulnerabilities – and there are many vulnerabilities in urban environments. “

ORNL project manager Nagendra Singh said that climate modeling focuses mainly on “where things like a one-degree increase in temperature or where there will be more heat waves in our climate models will happen.” But we have not emphasized the subtle details of these impacts – how climate events will disproportionately affect different communities. Applying this geodemographic data to models is a good approach to generating the information needed by decision-makers. “

ORNL researchers have used microdata from the U.S. Census to create a synthetic population that brings together the individual composition of urban communities to assess the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of neighborhoods to climate change. The team collected demographic information such as income level, age, gender, ethnicity and housing from the census databases. They generated data on the characteristics of the building to determine whether a structure is an office, shop, residential building or other type of structure, applying machine learning techniques to satellite imagery. The combined data generated a high-resolution analysis of different impacts in socio-economic groups up to street level.

ORNL researchers developed and tested the platform using data from the Atlanta metropolitan area to characterize neighborhoods and then assessed the potential impacts of urban heat islands in different demographically defined groups.

The methodology builds on ORNL’s many years of experience in measuring population and environmental change, including the Laboratory’s Climate Change Research Institute and tools for modeling human dynamics developed as part of national security research.

“Infrastructure is absolutely important for cities. People are absolutely important for cities. So is the environment, climate and all natural physical characteristics,” Brelsford said. “We can’t understand cities in general without thinking about how all these different sectors interact with each other.”

When science brings together climate factors, people, buildings and infrastructure, “we get a theoretically stable and rigorous way to understand the three main characteristics that make up cities,” Brelsford said. “You have to do everything, because cities don’t make sense without the interaction of people, goods, the environment and ideas. Cities are hubs of multisectoral interactions.”

One of the roles in DOE’s national laboratories is to “make sure that the most vulnerable among us are equally, fairly and accurately represented in science, and we don’t get to that when we look only at urban aggregates.” We need to look at the differences on an urban scale to do this well, “Brelsford added.

“Taking a serious empirical look at the heterogeneity of cities is a critical step in understanding how all the major risks we face in the coming decades are filtered to real people,” she said.

Researchers predict help prevent national security effects from climate crises

Provided by Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Quote: Scientists are developing an environmental justice lens to identify neighborhoods vulnerable to climate change (2022, June 2, 2022), extracted on June 2, 2022 from -scientists-environmental-justice-lens-neighborhoods.html

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