Redefining Progress

Climate Change in California: Health, Economic, and Equity Impacts



Climate change presents significant problems for all of humanity. The question is no longer whether climate change is real. The question is what climate change means for individual communities, businesses, and constituencies. What groups are more vulnerable to climate change impacts? What business sectors have more to lose? What political constituencies face greater health and economic burdens? What are the solutions that will work for everyone? These questions will increasingly influence climate change discourse during this century.


This report focuses on a specific population and location—low-income communities and people of color in California—and it demonstrates the degree to which these groups face significant and unequal climate change risks, exposure, and overall burden. The health implications of increased air and water pollution, heat waves, and other weather-related crises result in disproportionate negative impacts for people of color and low-income communities. Similarly, the economic impacts of climate change—such as higher prices for food, water, and energy—will impose new economic burdens on low-income households.


Leaders and policymakers need to understand these unequal impacts and must know how the specific communities in their areas will be affected. In looking at the factors (not all of which are geographic) that produce these differences, leaders and policymakers can develop policies to help the constituencies they serve. Local and regional initiatives not only complement global efforts on climate change but also provide opportunities to involve more stakeholders, to act rapidly, and to utilize precise knowledge in assessing the costs and benefits of mitigation and adaptation.


California is an established leader in the world—economically, technologically, and politically. The diversity of people, economic sectors, and environments in the state provides a valuable laboratory in which to study the impacts of climate change under varying circumstances. And as the leading greenhouse-gas emitting states in the leading greenhouse gas-emitting nation, California has both a responsibility to lead and an opportunity to deliver benefits to all of humanity.

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