How does a city grappling with how to thrive in the present day begin to think about what it will look like 50 years down the road?
That was a question the Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice (DWEJ) wanted answered when it assembled the Detroit Climate Action Collaborative (DCAC) in 2011, a largely volunteer initiative to bring government, industry, academia, and the community together to address the effects of climate change on the city.
“Understandably, a lot of people don’t have the time and the resources to be thinking about climate change, but, as a society, I don’t think we have a choice in the matter,” said Natalie Sampson, UM-Dearborn assistant professor of health and human services. “It’s exciting to see [DWEJ Policy Director] Kimberly Hill Knot and the environmental justice community pick up this topic and run with it.”
Sampson sits on the DCAC steering committee and chairs the public health work group. She hopes to get decision-makers to think about how public health and climate change are connected. With climate change, southeast Michigan will likely experience increased temperatures and more heavy precipitation events. This has implications for health—think of how heat waves can trigger respiratory issues or how flooded basements can expose people to waterborne diseases.
“The core mission of public health fits in with getting ready for these events,” she said. “If we have these extreme weather events, what does that mean for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents? If we’re behind on this issue, we’re going to further amplify disparities.”
DCAC has led focus groups and community outreach activities to make sure their work reflects the needs, resources and knowledge of Detroiters and the DCAC’s partners. Across the city, many related community development and environmental initiatives have been underway for years.
To address climate change, Sampson said, “We have to think about how we can put systems in place to support citywide efforts, as well as the good work that is already happening in Detroit’s neighborhoods.”
The DCAC is working on a climate action plan that will begin to address those needs in ways that reflect existing research. The plan—similar to plans developed in more than 600 cities nationwide—will document the city’s current greenhouse gas emissions levels and detail strategies on how to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
DCAC published initial accomplishments in the Michigan Journal of Sustainability and will release the climate action plan this spring. The group also plans to continue to work with its many partners and Detroit residents to raise awareness of climate change and its impact on the city.