Nature in our cities can offer solutions to rising temperatures and flood risks.
We hear a lot about climate change and its impacts to communities on our coasts, threatened by sea-level rise, or in rural areas where forest fires are growing in intensity and frequency. But among the less recognized consequences of our warming planet are those faced by people living in urban environments.
Increased heat, flood risk from heavy rains and poor air quality caused by carbon pollution are among the growing threats to our state’s city-dwellers. This is particularly pronounced in neighborhoods close to industry and lacking in green space.
“The sad truth is that within cities, the burden of climate change is felt hardest in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,” says Chris Hilton, urban partnership director for The Nature Conservancy. “As citizens, we must all work together, pairing growth in our cities with equitable solutions that ensure resilience to both climate change and climate injustice.”
In Seattle’s Duwamish Valley, air pollution from industry and highway corridors takes a toll on residents. Data has shown that children in South Park and Georgetown are more frequently hospitalized due to asthma conditions, and life expectancy in these neighborhoods is eight years shorter than the Seattle average, and a full 13 years shorter than the comparatively wealthier neighborhood of Laurelhurst in North Seattle.
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Practical solutions to green our cities will bring natural climate resilience – native plants and greenspaces filter toxic stormwater runoff from streets and highways, while urban tree canopies buffer extreme heat and filter polluted air.
The Nature Conservancy in Washington is with working City Habitats, a cross-sector network of organizations and agencies dedicated to bringing more nature into Puget Sound cities and towns in ways that enhance quality of life for all people. According to Hilton, “Interesting, innovative projects are re-imagining how we build urban spaces in ways that are good for both nature and people. Through the network, we learn from one another and ensure that at-risk communities and their leadership are central in determining how to best build resilience and sustainability.”
The Nature Conservancy also is driving forward tree-canopy enhancement across the region —collaborating across sectors, investing in on-the-ground projects and gathering data on how trees impact our well-being. These projects are a key part of the organization’s work to advance nature-based solutions for the health of people and nature.
So what can you do? Climate change is everyone’s responsibility, and you can start with simple steps to lower your own carbon footprint. Above all, we must stay engaged. Learn about community efforts and groups in your neighborhood and speak out for social and environmental justice with your fellow citizens on the front lines of climate change. Raise your voice for climate action in your community, and share that climate change solutions are important to you, your family and fellow Washingtonians. If we take on the challenge of climate change together, our impact will be tremendous.
Find out what you can do to fight climate change in your community. If everyone works together, we can rise to the challenge. Visit The Nature Conservancy to learn more.