I know that it has been a while since we spoke, I apologize for this as school as been pretty busy lately. This semester has been going well and I have been taking some great classes. One class that I want to tell you more about is Urban Sociology. I have been learning a lot in this class, particularly about climate change. I know that you’ve never been a huge believer in this, as you’ve lived in Texas most of your life and it’s always been hot. I respect your belief that climate change does not exist because it is not affecting you in Texas. But, I challenge you to read this letter about what I have been learning in this class, as this class has offered me a deeper understanding about climate change and its affects.
Roots and Impacts of Climate Change
A term that I have learned in this class is the sociological imagination. This term was coined by a sociologist named C. Wright Mills and describes being aware of how your personal experiences can affect society in many different ways. Explaining this in terms of climate change, the sociological imagination helps us to explore many aspects of climate change, such as: 1) Why climate change is happening, 2) How we are impacted by climate change, 3) Why we are not responding well to climate change, and 4) How we could respond to climate change.
There are many reasons that climate change is happening, a lot that we don’t think about immediately when discussing climate change. One very large reason that climate change is happening is that humans are emitting several greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases are gases that absorb and release radiation into the atmosphere such as carbon dioxide and methane. Carbon dioxide and methane are actually the two largest contributors to climate change, as carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere with the loss of forests, and methane being released into the atmosphere from landfills and natural gas factories. Connecting this to urban sociology, only 2% of the Earth is made up of urban areas, but these cities produce 71-76% of the world’s carbon dioxide. Humans have contributed significantly to climate change by doing activities such as polluting the oceans and overusing fossil fuels. It’s best to raise more awareness about this now before it gets even worse.
Climate change has impacted our society in many ways, Nana. With ocean levels rising because of climate change, this has created more flooding all over the world. Connecting this to urban sociology, one city that has been affected by climate change in a very important way is New Orleans. I know that you’ve always loved Louisiana, but they are still dealing with the effects of Hurricane Katrina. People in low-income areas are still not able to rebuild their homes due to lack of funds, the city of New Orleans is gentrifying (modernizing) predominantly Black areas, and water levels in Louisiana are only rising. This is dangerous because as climate change continues to affect us negatively, extreme weather is predicted to only get worse in Louisiana. As climate change continues to get worse, it is being predicted that the sea levels will continue to rise by about 1 centimeter a year by the year 2050. This may not sound like a lot, but this is predicted to happen over a 30 year period. This is very alarming and shows that something must change.
There are many possible reasons that we may not be responding effectively to climate change. Sociologists believe that social context plays a significant role in this because relationships between oil companies and the federal government are what shape policy surrounding climate change. The problem with this is the campaigns of misinformation are being used to confuse people into believing false facts about climate change, people mostly believing these false facts in order to stay in line with social and cultural beliefs and to avoid guilt if they believed the scientific facts.
Sociologists discuss several different ways that we can respond to climate change. People should respond to this issue by trying to solve the macro (societal) level problem of climate change instead of just trying to do little things. I understand that it is easier to think that your actions are saving the world if you’re doing something environmentally friendly, but other people are necessary in order to help make this change happen.
How Our Cities are Affected by Climate Change
In my Urban Sociology class, we have been focusing on four cities in the United States, Detroit, San Francisco, New Orleans, and New York. I have found some data from the Urban Adaptation Assessment (UAA) that I would like to share with you.
The city of Detroit is at high risk of having problems with heat and cold in future years and are not prepared for this problem because of little health facilities and very low civic engagement, meaning citizens are not engaged in decision-making and the government is less likely to protect rights and needs of groups at risk. Detroit has a very large population density and little nature in the city or surrounding it, opening them up to the possibility of many problems in the future. Detroit is expected to have an increase of 4.7 degrees in temperature during the summer and winter by 2050, with precipitation also to increase by the year 2050.
San Francisco, on the other hand, has a very high risk for droughts, heat, cold, and floods in the future. While their risk is high in these categories, their readiness is also high because of a high level of civic engagement and an emphasis on environmental sustainability in this city. San Francisco sees a potential increase of 3.3 degrees during the summer and winter months.
As mentioned earlier, New Orleans is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina almost 14 years later. Although they are still dealing with the aftermath of Katrina, they are not at as high of a risk of problems with heat, cold, or floods. But, they are at a high risk of sea levels rising in the future, as I have discussed earlier. Although new Orleans has very low civic engagement, they do have more economic readiness in the case of environmental problems. New Orleans will see a potential increase of temperature in the summer and winter by about 3.4 degrees and an increase in precipitation by about 0.4 inches.
New York has the highest risk for problems with heat, cold, and droughts among all of the cities that I have discussed with you and has a relatively high readiness. The only reason their readiness is ranked so highly is because of their governmental readiness, as in most citizens believe that global warming is a problem that can affect their city. New York will potentially see a temperature increase of 4.8 degrees during the summer and winter months and an increase in precipitation by about 0.5 inches.
People/Policies and Solutions/Strategies
I know that this is a lot of information, and not very happy information to read. But, there are some good things that can come out of fixing the problem of climate change. Many environmental initiatives have been created in New Orleans to address the problem of climate change such as the Alliance for Affordable Energy, where they promote citizen participation in the decision-making process centered around energy issues. In Detroit, a group of scientists, environmentalists, and others developed the Detroit Climate Action Plan, which addresses the waste to energy strategy in Detroit.
I hope you have found this information valuable. I was very surprised to learn all of this and I hope that some of this has come as a surprise to you too. Climate change is something that has been affecting us for decades and will only get worse, affecting future generations. Using sociology and the sociological imagination to understand this makes the subject, in my opinion, easier to learn and understand. Climate change is a very complex issue, but just as humans have been the ones to cause it, we also have the capability to fix and reverse what we started. Thank you for reading about this subject.
Talk to you soon,