Why the Poor Are the First to Feel the Impact of Climate Change

Cristina Torres, Contributor

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According to National Geographic, sea levels, on average, have risen 4 to 8 inches in the past hundred years. Even more concerning, the rates of rise have been increasing exponentially, and will continue to accelerate at faster and faster rates.

Rising sea levels heavily affect us here in the Bay, and if you do not think this issue has impacted you, it’s only a matter of time before it will. According to University of California-Berkeley, in the next hundred years, large seaboard chunks of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Menlo Park and Sunnyvale will be under the ocean, entailing detrimental economic implications that are going to all citizens of the Bay Area. However, these implications are going to disproportionately affect the lower classes in the Bay Area.

The co-director of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Brian Beveridge, told the Public Press: “It’s going to fall down along lines of class and political power– who will be protected and who will be thrown to the dogs.”

The socioeconomic divide in the Bay Area– an already troubling issue– will be further deepened as sea levels rise. Once houses become inundated, citizens belonging to the lower class will be left homeless while the rich are in a better financial position to relocate. That, added to the fact that the rich can afford flood insurance while those in the lower class are less likely to have that privilege, will make the stark contrast between the upper and lower classes even more palpable.

But it’s not just the people whose houses have sunk who will lose their homes. As property on dry land becomes scarcer, there will be an increase in the demand for the houses on high ground, and a new form of gentrification– what is newly referred to as “climate gentrification” — will take place. Once the rich begin to lose their homes to rising sea levels, they will begin essentially pushing the poor out of their homes, displacing them in order to build new developments. In essence, with the rise of sea levels will come the suffering of all of the Bay Area lower class.

The notion of climate gentrification hitting the Bay is foreseeable, as this is what is occurring in Miami, Florida, where the rise of sea levels has had a larger impact on housing and the real estate market. As Erika Bolstad wrote for Scientific American in her article, “High Ground Becoming Hot Property as Sea Levels Rise,” real-estate owners in Miami are now “on the lookout for a place to live on higher ground, which is likely to push people of color and the poor out of neighborhoods.”

Since the rising sea level situation in Miami is more advanced than that of the Bay Area, the real-estate patterns and climate gentrification in Florida are a good indicator of what is to come to the Bay Area once the severity of our status reaches that point. But we are already seeing the socioeconomic vulnerability of the Bay Area with another rising sea level/climate change induced natural disaster: flooding.

The effects of climate gentrification on the Bay Area are speculative extrapolations of the future, but right here, right now, it is observable that time and again, the brunt of the consequences of flooding have consistently fallen on the shoulders of the already marginalized lower class.

17,430 residents of Santa Clara County– home of Foothill College– have their property currently flooded below 3 feet, according to Climate Central, but of the people who live in areas prone to flooding, the majority are of low-income households. According to an article published by San Jose Mercury News, “most of the flood zone is moderate to low-income. Residents will struggle to replace lost belongings or, if they’re homeowners, to pay for repairs.” The San Jose lower class is virtually forced into cheap housing– its price due to its susceptibility to flooding — and are then obliged to periodically pay for repairs when a flood inevitably hits. This process of living in housing due to low income and then having to pay money due to the housing creates a system where the San Jose lower class is kept at the bottom, making upward social mobility impossible while making it an extraordinary struggle to maintain the bare necessities.

Lower classes in the Bay Area have been more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels, which only exacerbates the social stratification in the Bay for the worse. Once climate change takes its toll, the lower class will be the first to take the hit while the upper class comes out virtually unscathed– that is until we bring climate change to the point where there is no more dry land left on the planet and we all go down.

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Why the Poor Are the First to Feel the Impact of Climate Change