How climate change impacts vulnerable communities within Detroit

Earth heads toward dangerous temperature rises

Protests were held across the globe on Friday (Sept. 24) to demand political leaders take action against climate change. Thousands of people staged protests in Italy, Germany and in the United Kingdom.
Protests were held across the globe on Friday (Sept. 24) to demand political leaders take action against climate change. Thousands of people staged protests in Italy, Germany and in the United Kingdom.

DETROIT – Protests were held across the globe on Friday (Sept. 24) to demand political leaders take action against climate change. Thousands of people staged protests in Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom.

Scientists have put out warnings that the world is heading towards dangerous temperature rises unless greenhouse gas emissions are cut sharply in the coming years. The impacts of climate change are being felt in Metro Detroit -- there have been months of flooding and high temperatures.

Read: Let’s address the elephant in the room: Hurricanes and climate change

Those effects are felt most by those with the least. Some Metro Detroit residents have said they don’t have the money to keep tackling the issues every year and they’re worried if change doesn’t come soon there won’t be anything left to save.

Sandra Turner-Handy has lived in Detroit for 20 years and is a community activist.

“I literally had to go in my basement in the daytime because I was scared to turn on lights,” Turner-Handy said. “The thing about this summer was it wasn’t just the flooding because then we had the high winds and everything so a lot of people lost power. Do you know how it is to have a flooded basement and have no power?”

This past summer was the ninth hottest on record, according to the National Weather Service. There was also severe flooding, including floods in June that experts said were off the charts.

“We’re seeing more intense rainfall events. We’re even seeing heavier snow because that moisture helps produce snow, so the future is going to be one of the more intense precipitation events,” Paul Gross said.

Read: Hamburg Township residents band together to find solutions to flooding

Detroit has long been considered one of the most environmentally unjust places in the country. The effects of pollution and a warming climate often hurt the lowest-income neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color more than others in the city.

Some scientists believe the globe has already passed the point of no return to reverse the consequences -- an increase of just 2 degrees in average temperature has the potential to throw global weather out of balance.

“As the planet warms it’s like putting the atmosphere on steroids and these storms are producing more rain and are becoming more frequent,” Paul Gross said.

The impacts of climate change are making things worse for those who are underinsured or uninsured. Repeated flooding is draining what little savings they have and being without powers for long periods puts a strain on their mental health.

Donele Wilkins is the CEO of the Green Door Initiative Wilkins has been doing environmental justice since the early 1990s. One of her focuses is on improving infrastructure to help save neighborhoods in poverty from being overwhelmed by climate change.

“We’re going to see people who are not going to be able to be rescued before their life just kind of gives out. We’re talking about the disabled, the elderly for instance. There’s only so much you can take,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said she’s hoping for investment from the state and federal government to help stave off the worst of the effects of climate change on things like creating run-off drains built for more intense rain or stronger power grids to help keep the lights on in extreme heat.

The City of Detroit does have a climate change strategy, but many climate experts said much of it is too little, too late and it can only go so far without government and private sector help.

Click here to view climate change coverage from Paul Gross.


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About the Authors:

Grant comes to Local 4 from Oklahoma City. He joins the news team as co-anchor of Local 4 News Today weekend mornings and is a general assignment reporter.

Kayla is a Web Producer for ClickOnDetroit. Before she joined the team in 2018 she worked at WILX in Lansing as a digital producer.