Ecological equity and spatial assimilation: A justice paradigm for 2nd Centennial ecologists
There is a rising sense of urgency in understanding how marginalized urban populations will be impacted by climate change. Emerging threats on sensitive populations is a complex sociocultural-ecological issue that requires systems thinking and connecting sociocultural forms to ecological functions. Rust Belt cities are post-industrial cities that are sprinkled across the Great Lakes and Midwest region of the United States; and include Chicago, IL, Detroit, MI, Milwaukee, WI, St. Louis, MO and Cleveland, OH. These cities are also among the top ten of the most segregated metropolitan areas for one or more ethnic groups (African American or Hispanic communities). Ecosystem services for addressing human health and wellbeing has yet to fully be placed into the context of application; this is especially a critical time seeing as though there are communities who are in need of long-term sustainable solutions. By using climate action plans of Rust Belt cities as model systems I identify risks to both African American and Hispanic communities to highlight the differences and similarities between the two; and relate emergent risks to the state of urban ecology knowledge. Furthermore I address the relationship between the ecology community and longstanding grassroots organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People or the “NAACP” for investigating, if and how our work aligns with the needs as expressed by their Climate Justice Initiative.
The results illuminate the absence of a thoughtful critique of sensitive urban populations in Rust Belt climate change plans, as well as identification of air quality, flooding and food security as climate change risks impacting the health and wellbeing of minority communities. Conclusions drawn also support my argument that highly segregated cities are unique systems requiring intentional consideration for ecological form in resolving or preventing environmental injustice due to climate change. The absence of an understanding of how existing urban ecological knowledge translates into action can be reconciled through new ways of working with non-traditional partners such as the NAACP. This crisis as an opportunity for urban ecologists to contribute to the equity of urban ecosystem services which includes utilizing a justice paradigm.