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Chicago: Ground Zero for Climate Justice in Urban America

Operation Viridis is a Climate Justice Initiative

Operation Viridis will:
  • Reveal how climate change is massively exacerbating existing environmental prejudice; and

  • Propose a grassroots solution to harden impacted communities against increasing environmental threats, and thus achieve a measure of climate justice

What is Climate Justice?

Source: Projections of the Economic Impacts of Climate Change by Country, Source: Burke, Hsiang and Miguel (2015)

The Impacts of Climate Change are Unequally Distributed

Climate justice acknowledges that the social, economic, and public health impacts of climate change are not distributed equally, and that they often disproportionately affect historically marginalized and vulnerable communities...which are the very communities that have contributed the least to cumulative emissions of greenhouse gases

Addressing Climate Change is a Moral Imperative

It is fundamentally unjust that the poorest societies (and the poorest members of any society) who have the smallest carbon footprints (because their lifestyles are dictated by their economic circumstances) should suffer the most from climate change.

Climate justice recognizes the moral imperative of addressing these accelerating impacts through long-term adaptation initiatives

Source: Kiss-Dobronyi, B. (2021, December 30). Unequal economic impacts of climate change

Climate Justice is a Civil Rights Issue

Climate justice is a civil rights issue, perhaps nowhere more so than in Chicago, where the de facto residential segregation of a superficially diverse population correlates uncomfortably closely with widely varying risks from climate change

The Fight for Climate Justice Echoes the Fight for School Desegregation

Reminiscent of the 1954 Supreme Court decision in 'Brown v. Board of Education' – separate neighborhoods are ‘inherently unequal’ when it comes to the burden of climate change

The Risk of Extreme Heat is Not Evenly Distributed Across Chicago

Neighborhoods in the South and West of Chicago have both substantially higher summer roof temperatures, and substantially higher heat vulnerability (lower incidence of air conditioning, higher incidence of pre-existing medical conditions, etc.)

Map of Chicago census tracts with (A) summer roof temperature, (B) heat vulnerability index, and (C) AC consumption.

Source: A Sharma et al 2018 Environ. Res. Lett. 13 094011

The Great Chicago Heat Wave of 1995:  A Cautionary Tale

In July 1995, an unprecedented heat wave resulted in more than 700 excess deaths in Chicago


Rates of heat-related deaths during the 1995 Chicago heat wave had clear spatial variability, with the highest mortality in socioeconomically disadvantaged and isolated neighborhoods


By mid-century, a similarly intense heat wave is expected to occur approximately twice a decade under low emission scenarios and five times a decade in high emission scenarios


By the end of the century, a 1995-like heat wave is projected to occur three times each year under high emission scenarios

Extreme heat events and flash flooding events have the power to kill, and climate change will increase the severity and frequency of these events in the future. 

In Chicago, Extreme Heat Vulnerability Correlates Strongly with Income...

...and with Race/Ethnicity

Redlining was a discriminatory lending practice, sanctioned by the federal government, of designating certain neighborhoods as 'hazardous' on the basis of race, and thus unworthy of mortgages. 

Redlining entrenched racial segregation, excluded minorities from wealth creation via home ownership, and starved their communities of infrastructure. 

Though outlawed over 50 years ago, the toxic legacy of Redlining remains evident in the racial/economic segregation that still defines many U.S. cities

Source: Best, R. E. M. (2022, February 9). The Lasting Legacy Of Redlining. FiveThirtyEight.

Chicago's Racial/Economic Segregation is Linked to the Persistent Effects of Historical Redlining

Historically Redlined Areas also Incur an Increased Risk of Flooding

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