Thousands of people showed up to the People’s Climate March in 2017.
<i>Rachel Sadon/DCist</i>

Thousands of people showed up to the People’s Climate March in 2017. Rachel Sadon/DCist

A long, hot, wet summer in D.C. brought a number of environmental issues to the forefront — from dangerous algae to extreme heat to widespread, sometimes catastrophic flooding.

Everyone will be affected by climate change, but already-marginalized communities are especially vulnerable. Projections show that neighborhoods east of the Anacostia will be especially vulnerable to flooding and water contamination in the coming decades. Excessive heat is the largest cause of weather-related deaths, has been since the 1980s, and disproportionately kills those without consistent access to air conditioning. And poor air quality, in tandem with little or no access to healthcare, can become deadly.

A recent paper coauthored by a researcher at American University suggests that “climate justice” needs to be at the center of efforts to improve D.C.’s resilience. That requires tackling inequalities that already exist, as a means to prevent the gap from widening. But it also requires the ability to translate social justice principles into actual policies.

We’ll introduce you to that AU researcher, as well as D.C.’s first-ever Resilience Officer and a local reporter who’s covering climate change on the ground.

The Kojo Nnamdi Show is providing special coverage on climate issues this week as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of 250 news outlets designed to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Produced by Maura Currie


  • Kevin Bush Chief Resilience Officer, D.C. Government; @BushKevinJ
  • Malini Ranganathan Assistant Professor, American University School of International Service; @maliniranga
  • Jacob Fenston Environment Reporter, WAMU 88.5; @JacobFenston


  • 12:00:20

    KOJO NNAMDIYou're tuned in to The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5, welcome. This week we're participating in covering Climate Now, a global media initiative focused on telling the climate change story. Today we turn our attention to the District. This was an unusually hot and wet summer. And you've probably seen the effects in your own backyard from dangerous algae in the rivers to rivers of storm water flooding your street. That might soon be the new normal, but when it comes to living with the consequences of climate change it's not an equal experience even though it will affect all of us.

  • 12:00:53

    KOJO NNAMDIMarginalized communities throughout the region will see different and more severe impacts from climate change. And when you're struggling to put food on the table, activism and disaster preparedness can be understandably low on your agenda. Here to tell us about climate justice and how D.C. is planning to stay resilient is Jacob Fenston. He is the Environment Reporter here at WAMU. Jacob, always a pleasure.

  • 12:01:16


  • 12:01:17

    NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Kevin Bush, D.C.'s Chief Resilience Officer. Kevin Bush, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:22

    KEVIN BUSHHi, Kojo.

  • 12:01:23

    NNAMDIAnd Malini Ranganathan is an Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University. Malini, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:01:31

    MALINI RANGANATHANThank you for having me, Kojo.

  • 12:01:32

    NNAMDIJacob, let's start with you. You've been doing some reporting on resilience and how the D.C. region is starting to mitigate climate change impacts. What have you learned about the risks we're facing?

  • 12:01:42

    FENSTONWell, there are a lot of risks in terms of climate change. And there's basically three sort of big categories of climate change that the D.C. region will experience. And I did a story this morning that talked about there's three "W's," warmer, wetter and wilder. It's going to be warmer. It's a pretty obvious one. And you mentioned that with the weather this summer. I'm just looking at the number of 90 degree days this summer. There were basically three weeks more 90 degree days than the historical average this summer in D.C. That's the sort of weather that will sort of characterize the future as the planet warms up.

  • 12:02:21

    FENSTONWe're also expect -- the sea level is rising here. We're on two tidal rivers and the sea level has risen about a foot so far, and it's expected to rise, you know, we don't know how much more, but it could be six feet in extreme scenarios. It's I guess physically plausible that it could rise up to 11 feet by the end of the century which is a lot and would, you know, cover things like national airports. And then also extreme weather is the third "W," wilder weather. So, you know, things like the July 8th storm whereas that Monday morning it rained a month's worth of rain in an hour. That sort of thing is what climate scientists tell us will become much more common in the future.

  • 12:03:04

    NNAMDIKevin Bush, you're D.C.'s first ever resilience officer. Can you give us a sense of what job description entails and how climate change plays into the work your office does overall?

  • 12:03:15

    BUSHSure thing. So resilience in D.C. the way we think about it is in order to best prepare for the future you have to understand both the chronic stresses that D.C. and our residents go through every day. Things like the high cost of housing, stress transportation networks, you name it. And also look at the potential acute shocks that might impact D.C. So that could be many of the things that Jacob just mentioned. It could also be a federal government shutdown or, you know, safe track even. Right, it makes a big impact on folks' life. And the only way to plan for those things is to do so holistically where you're addressing the underlying stresses that weaken our ability to withstand any of these major shocks when they do happen.

  • 12:04:01

    NNAMDISo what does it mean in that context for you to make the District more resilient?

  • 12:04:06

    BUSHSo we actually just put out a plan in April. The mayor released D.C.'s first ever Resilience Strategy. And it takes this holistic view at building urban resilience. There's 68 initiatives in the strategy. For goals, we focus on the idea that you need to thrive in the face of change looking at climate change, changes in technology and then also even population and economic growth, right. We're at 702,000 folks now in D.C. We're expected to get to a million by I think 2040. And that puts a major strain on the system. So the strategy, which is up on lays out all of these initiatives in pretty great detail.

  • 12:04:48

    NNAMDIMalini, earlier you and a colleague published an article titled "From Urban Resilience to Abolitionist Climate Justice in Washington D.C." Now that we know a little bit more about resilience can you define climate justice for us?

  • 12:05:03

    RANGANATHANThe term climate justice most broadly refers to the fact that those that are least responsible for climate change are likely to bare its gravest impacts and in a very broad sense. In the context of the United States, the term climate justice is very closely associated with the terms environmental justice and environmental racism, both of which came out of the civil rights movement. In the late 70s and early 80s, leaders and organizers, who came out of the civil rights movement started to take stock of environmental hazards. Things like toxic waste and industries and trash dumps that were disproportionately born by low income people of color. And what they pointed out at the time was that in fact race is a greater predictor than class even of the location of hazardous facilities, and that's the term environmental racism was coined.

  • 12:06:00

    RANGANATHANAnd environmental justice is a broader term as defined sociologist Robert Bullard as one of the founders of the movement, the idea, the principle that all people should be entitled to equal protection under environmental and health laws. So drawing inspiration from these terms from the civil rights movement climate justice has become a rallying call for front line communities to pay attention to underlying socioeconomic and racial inequities that are likely to be exacerbated by climate induced harm, harm that's disproportionately born by low income black, brown or indigenous people in the country.

  • 12:06:40

    NNAMDIMalini, how did you go about doing your research and what conclusions did you come to?

  • 12:06:45

    RANGANATHANWe know that climate change is going to be a threat multiplier. Right. What that means is that climate change is likely to reinforce underlying vulnerabilities. Things like food insecurity and housing insecurity and even mobility insecurity. That is the lack of ability to get from place A to place B because of the lack of transit networks or the lack of a personal vehicle. We wanted to understand these inequities beyond aggregate numbers. In other words, we wanted to put a human face to these numbers, Kojo. We wanted to understand the stories that give texture to gross numbers of inequity that the city government has been very thorough in documenting.

  • 12:07:29

    RANGANATHANSo we designed a climate vulnerability survey and we implemented it in Ward 7's Kenilworth, Parkside and Eastland Gardens neighborhoods. These are areas that are predominantly low income and African American. And we combined this with archival research and oral histories from residents. In fact, Justin Lini, the ANC Commissioner, in a part of Ward 7 took us on an environmental history bicycle tour just to point out the various harms that have been done historically in that region. And what we found was that what we're calling intersectional harms, right, the kind of compounding of food insecurity with housing insecurity with mobility insecurity, right. All of these are likely to be worsened by climate shocks.

  • 12:08:16

    RANGANATHANFor instance, we spoke to an elderly woman in Eastland Gardens whose husband's dialysis machine stopped working during the last storm, because of a power outage. Now without the ability to jump on a bus or even get in the car, because of mobility insecurity they weren't able to get into a hospital in time. These are the types of intersecting threats that we're looking at in the District.

  • 12:08:40

    NNAMDIJacob Fenston, you've been reporting on the environment at WAMU for a while now. How have you seen climate extremes impact the region already?

  • 12:08:49

    FENSTONWell, there's a lot of ways. And I think, you know, just talking about sort of environmental justice and climate justice, you know, we could talk about heat. And there is a recent study about the urban heat island effect where -- and I went out with one of the researches. They're driving around D.C. with thermometers basically measuring all the different neighborhoods. And they found, you know, more than 10 degree difference in temperatures from certain neighborhoods. You know, closer to Rock Creek Park, for example, areas that had more trees, which also tended to be the wealthier neighborhoods compared to a lot of more low income neighborhoods where there aren't as many trees and where there's more sort of, you know, asphalt that absorbs the heat.

  • 12:09:31

    FENSTONYou could talk about flooding. You know, it costs a lot of money to fix your basement if it floods. And a lot of the flooding like this July 8th flooding I was talking about, a lot of that is happening in places that aren't in the flood plain that people don't have flood insurance. So even if you, you know, own your house you may not -- a few thousand dollars to fix your basement could really harm you. So I think that's there's a lot of -- you could look at any of the impacts of climate change and look at ways that they are disproportionately, you know, already impacting people in the city.

  • 12:10:06

    NNAMDIKevin Bush, what are some of the threats created by climate change that your office is looking into?

  • 12:10:11

    BUSHWell, Jacob did a really good job I think of outlining many of them. And, you know, what I think is important that Malini's research is highlighted is this fact that many of these risks, these impacts intersect with other issues that are already ongoing in these communities. You know, Jacob talked about a historical lack of trees in certain neighborhoods of D.C. And in part what we're trying to do in the District is recognize those disproportionate harms that are caused by climate change and address them. So, for instance, we plant more trees every year in Ward 7 and 8 than we do in Wards 4 and 5, because we've got some catching up to do, and the urban heat island can be greater in some of those neighborhoods.

  • 12:10:53

    BUSHAlso on the flood side that Jacob mentioned, you know, FEMA every year they put out these flood plain maps. You know, everyone talks about the 100 year flood plain. That's great for telling your historical risk along bodies of water. What it's not great at doing is those types of floods that Jacob is talking about where it rains a bunch and suddenly basements in Bloomingdale are flooding. And so we're actually investing, I think it's somewhere around $5 million over the next couple of years to develop a digital twin of D.C. that allows us to model how water moves underground and in storm water pipes above ground. And be able to look at how things like sea level rise will impact flooding in areas far away from the river.

  • 12:11:38

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break, because as you know this is our fall membership campaign and we'd love for you to become a member of WAMU, but if you have called stay on the line. If you'd like to join this conversation you can call 800-433-8850 or send us a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:12:43

    NNAMDIWelcome back we're talking about climate change in this region, the possible effects that we are already seeing here in the Washington area in general and in Washington D.C. in particular. Joining me in studio is Jacob Fenston. He is the Environment Reporter here at WAMU. Kevin Bush is D.C.'s Chief Resilience Officer. And Malini Ranganathan is an Associate Professor in the School of International Service at American University. I should point out that WAMU is licensed to American University. But, Malini, from your experience how are people in the District experiencing climate change right now and how might they in the future?

  • 12:13:19

    RANGANATHANI think there are two really pertinent examples here. One is food insecurity, which is very closely tied to the racial wealth gap in the District. So, you know, statistics show that the wealthiest and whitest wards have up to 10 grocery stores per ward, whereas there are only three grocery stores for all of Ward 7 and 8. That's 150,000 people. Right. If you imagine that it's difficult you have to take two buses to get to a grocery store. Right. Under quote/unquote normal times, right, you can well imagine where there's a kind of disruption how that is going to be affected. And food is very much related to health.

  • 12:14:05

    RANGANATHANThe second thing is let's look at asthma. Right. The 2018 D.C. Health Equity Report says that a quarter of residents in Ward 8 report that they have been diagnosed with adult asthma. That's nearly twice the proportion for the highest income whitest wards and pediatric emergency room visits for asthma is 30 times higher for Ward 7 and 8 than for the wealthier wards. Now asthma, okay, given that it's disproportionately born by poor and African American residents in the District is likely to get worse on warmer days. So we have seen this past summer code orange days, right. That means high levels of surface ozone, poor air quality, those folks suffering asthma are going to face especially difficult times as the weather warms.

  • 12:14:58

    RANGANATHANAnd as we saw on your show yesterday people are talking about spikes, right. That's what we're worried about, spikes in temperature, spikes in rainfall and those are unpredictable, but are happening and that's really going to be a problem for people already suffering health.

  • 12:15:13

    NNAMDIYou live in Ward 7 or Ward 8, give us a call. Tell us how it's been you especially if you're troubled with asthma, 800-433-8850. You have just described a variety of multiple effects that can occur especially in poor areas of the cities. And you've referred to climate change having a multiplier effect on places where these disparities exist. Explain how that works.

  • 12:15:40

    RANGANATHANWell, by threat multiplier, what we're saying is that it's not just flooding per say that we're concerned about or, you know, a very warm day where you're advised not to drive your car or you're advised to stay home. We're worried about the ways in which those extremes interact with and will serve as catalyst for other things that are going on in people's lives, right and that's what we mean when we say threat multiplier.

  • 12:16:07

    NNAMDIWe got a tweet from Mark, who says, question for the guests. Is D.C. going to take this seriously, I.E. make hard decisions and act or is this just another marketing exercise? I'll start with you, Kevin Bush.

  • 12:16:21

    BUSHI think we are taking it seriously. You know, in my last job I worked for the federal government and worked with cities across the country. And honestly D.C. is doing more than most cities. And my counterparts over in New York and L.A., we constantly compare notes and have a little bit of a battle over which city is doing more on climate change. We have more green buildings per square foot and per capita than any other city in the country, more green roofs per capita and per square foot. We put more solar up. We plant more trees every year, which is a great way to mitigate the impacts of urban heat and address things like asthma per square foot than any other city in the country right now. So we're doing a lot.

  • 12:17:00

    BUSHAnd then again on the intersectionality issues, you know, we're also doing a lot under Mayor Bowser's leadership to address some of these other issues that can be laid bare by climate change. You know, we've got a unprecedented commitment to invest in affordable housing, and we've challenged the region to follow along and produce more units of housing because if we don't keep up with that population growth figure that I mentioned earlier, then it's only going to become more unaffordable to live here, and when you have less money in your checking account at the end of the day that makes you more vulnerable to things like hurricanes and heat waves.

  • 12:17:33

    NNAMDIJacob Fenston, there's always the risk that good faith projects designed to protect us from something like flooding can have unintended consequences. Talk about efforts to fortify the D.C. water front and about Old Town Alexandria.

  • 12:17:47

    FENSTONYes, I did the story I mentioned this morning that part of it is about Old Town, which I think is a really interesting example, but just first talking about D.C., I think it's sort of fascinating that at the same moment that the sea level is rising on the rivers is when we are sort turning back to the waterfronts building these sort of fabulous new developments along the waterfronts, you know, the Wharf, the area around the Navy Yard, Poplar Point, Buzzard Point in the future and then, you know, National Harbor in Prince George's. Alexandria has this sort of huge plan to do some more development along the waterfront.

  • 12:18:22

    FENSTONSo, this is all happening as the sea level is rising. And there are laws in place to, you know, make sure that those buildings are built above a certain level of flooding, or that they're flood-proofed. But it's not -- in some sense, if you fortify one area of the waterfront, that could increase flooding elsewhere in the river. You know, if there's a certain amount of water, it has to go somewhere. So, that can have unintended consequences.

  • 12:18:52

    FENSTONAnd I think there's also -- you know, planning takes a long time, and the science on sea level rise is evolving, and our understanding of how quickly it's happening, depending on the melting of ice sheets. You know, it's changing quickly, and these planning processes I'm not sure are always keeping up. So, Alexandria's an interesting example. They have been suffering from high tide flooding. It happens hundreds of times a year, where the high tide of the Potomac River kind of comes up over the sidewalk and into the streets. It's just sort of a normal thing along the waterfront there.

  • 12:19:30

    FENSTONSo, they have this plan they've been working on for a long time to raise the level of the waterfront. And they picked a level that's going to be about two or three feet above where it is now. That'll deal with basically the 20th century problem of sea level. And they weren't particularly focused on climate change and how much higher the sea level will be. So, now they're kind of looking back at the plan and figuring out ways they could add onto it in the future. But I just think that is an interesting example of ways in which this sort of huge global change isn't at the forefront, always, of planning efforts that take a long time.

  • 12:20:09

    NNAMDIWhen you mention what Alexandria is doing, is there potentially an issue with the data used by jurisdictions to make decisions about how to manage climate change?

  • 12:20:18

    FENSTONI mean, I think that, you know, Kevin was talking about this mapping effort to look at not just the, you know, floodplains along the waterways, but also the ways in which the drainage in the city, you know, can cause flooding when there's a big downpour. So, I think there are things that we don't have a great handle on.

  • 12:20:37

    FENSTONThere's a really interesting report from 2008, I think, which Malini mentions in her research, that after flooding downtown in 2006, that flooded a bunch of federal headquarters, the National Capitol Planning Commission, they did this big sort of study of what happened and why. And it was very interesting, because one thing that was interesting was that they were talking about a sea level rise of one foot in the next century, which is like not what we're expecting now. So, that sort of just like sea level rise data is something that, again, we're not necessarily keeping up with.

  • 12:21:21

    FENSTONAnd they also, you know, were -- there was some kind of, like, head-scratching about why this flooding happened. Since then, there's been a lot of work to mitigate that sort of federal triangle flooding.

  • 12:21:33

    NNAMDIMalini, what critiques do you have of the District's current approach to climate preparedness?

  • 12:21:39

    RANGANATHANI think, more broadly, Kojo, our research issues a word of caution against top-down, big money-type approaches to resilience plans that are technologically and private-sector driven, and that do not sufficiently incorporate the voices, histories and strategies of grassroots and frontline communities. So, more broadly, I think we get into some critiques of the way in which the language of resilience planning has been deployed.

  • 12:22:15

    RANGANATHANI mean, you saw, post-Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, some of the ways in which resilience dollars were spent did not directly benefit those who had been displaced, you know, those who needed the relief money, those who needed efforts to genuinely make them resilient. So, more broadly, I think our research does issue that word of caution against this kind of mainstream resilience planning.

  • 12:22:40

    RANGANATHANI think, that being said, I think the District resilience study report Resilient D.C. does a commendable job in, for instance, talking about structural racism. It's actually mentioned, the history of redlining, the history of housing segregation is mentioned in the report. It does a good job, also, in talking about the affordability crisis in the District.

  • 12:23:01

    RANGANATHANOne place where I feel they could've fleshed out a little bit more -- and I say this with a lot of empathy, because I know Kevin has certainly probably been living, eating, breathing the resilience report for the last two years -- is the question of public housing. I think the word only appears twice, I think, in the whole report. And I think there's a public housing crisis in the District. There's no mention, let's say, of the black mold, of the pests, of the water leaks that units in the District experience.

  • 12:23:33

    RANGANATHANTyrone Garrett, the head of the D.C. Housing Authority, has said that there's some $2.5 billion in deferred maintenance costs, and that a third of all public housing units are unfit for human habitation. To me, that is a resilience gap. That is an environmental racism gap that we need to address if we are truly to address the climate vulnerability of our most marginalized populations.

  • 12:23:57

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. And when we come back, we'll continue this conversation. If you have called -- and I see many of you have -- we'll get right to your calls. If you're trying to call and you can't get through, shoot us a Tweet @kojoshow or email to I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 12:24:30

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about D.C.'s resiliency and environmental justice, but you can't talk about D.C. without talking about surrounding jurisdictions. And, Jacob Fenston, you brought up Alexandria, so here's Janice in Alexandria, Virginia. Janice, your turn.

  • 12:24:45

    JANICEYes, hi. Good afternoon. The city's been discussing this for so many years, and nothing has been resolved. My question, though, is, if they put a barrier at the food of King Street and that entire area, what happens to the water that is cascading down King Street, because it's a very steep incline, pooling at the foot of the hill? We have a power outage. They cannot pump the water that is going to then backup into all of the houses. And a better plan would've been just less development on the waterfront with all of the hard surfaces.

  • 12:25:21

    NNAMDIThis gets to the data issue that we were talking about earlier.

  • 12:25:24

    BUSHYeah, and I don't know, you know, the plan as well as probably you do, but I think, you know, there are two pumping stations involved in the plan, so that will, you know, get water out if there's not a power outage. And, you know, I don't know. The whole development question was very controversial. It's still very controversial on the waterfront there.

  • 12:25:45

    NNAMDIIt is, and that's clearly what Janice is concerned about. Janice, thank you very much for your call. Malini, you talked about the fact that, in Ward 7 and 8, where there's a great deal of public housing, the city may not be paying enough attention to the mold that's in those public housings. Why do you think climate justice is something that lawmakers sometimes struggle to take into account?

  • 12:26:07

    RANGANATHANThat's a very important question. I think climate change feels so large and it feels as if there's not one thing in particular that can be done. And that's precisely the problem. Precisely the way we should be thinking about solutions as well, right, is that we need to attack it in this multi-sectoral, multi-pronged approach, which is exactly in the vein that Resilient D.C., the report, is heading in.

  • 12:26:34

    RANGANATHANAnd so I think that there's an opportunity here to address some of these longstanding racial inequities in the District. We often talk about this being two cities, right. There's Washington, and then there's the District. And, indeed, you know, this is an opportunity for the city to address some of these historical racisms and structural inequities. But I think that it also is a challenge, and I think that one of the ways to move ahead is to really listen to some of these stories in which people are experiencing these intersecting harms, in order to design policy and practice that acts on those intersections.

  • 12:27:14

    NNAMDIAnd for you, Kevin, Kathy couldn't stay on the line, but she wanted to ask: does this new office of resilience give suggestions for how citizens can do their part, particularly those who are not well-off? Is there any guidance for how people who are on a budget can do their part to fight climate change?

  • 12:27:29

    BUSHIt's a great question, and in some ways, it ties into actually what Malini was just talking about. And one of the interesting things that we're doing -- I think in the same neighborhood that your research was focused in on -- is, you know, if you go into a community that's struggling with paying their bills or finding food access, has real-life, day-to-day problems, and you say hey, you know, it might flood here in 10 years. You know, you might get a blank stare back.

  • 12:27:56

    BUSHAnd so, what we've done through the Department of Energy and Environment is actually we formed a partnership with Prince Charitable Trusts, an equity advisory group in the far northeast neighborhoods, and asked them what they would do. And the beauty of the partnership with Prince is that they're actually compensated for their time, which is something that the government typically can't do, but if you're really seeking deep community engagement, you kind of need to do, because folks have other priorities.

  • 12:28:28

    BUSHAnd so one thing that this group has been able to highlight as a potential solution and need is this concept of resilience, which we were talking about before the show, where you have the neighbors and residents programming the activities in a trusted place. And, you know, in a day-to-day scenario, that can be where people come together after some sort of community trauma, like something to do with gun violence, maybe. But when a major event, if an when it does happen, the resilience hub can also serve as an aggregating point. You now, if we put solar panels and battery storage on it, then maybe it'll also even be that beacon of light and power that allows folks to respond better when a disaster does occur.

  • 12:29:15


  • 12:29:16

    RANGANATHANAnd just speaking with residents in the area, I think one of the things that's really an urgent need is jobs, right. And so how do we tie that need for job generation, income generation with some of the strategies that are already being thought about already? And, you know, there's clearly -- there's a good opportunity there, especially around green infrastructure or kind of regenerating the Anacostia River -- which, Jacob, I know you've been covering a lot, as well -- you know, really folding in income-generating opportunities within that, so as to -- you know, you're attacking multiple things at once. And I think that jobs question has to be central here, as well.

  • 12:29:57

    NNAMDIHere's Charlie, in D.C. Charlie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 12:30:00

    CHARLIEHi. My big concern is infrastructure. So, a couple months ago, we had some pretty torrential rains. And there were videos all over Facebook and Twitter, just gallons of water coming down through the Metro. And if that is an initial signal of what is to come, we need to improve our infrastructure, our public transportation. I'm also concerned about the number of cars that are coming into the District and how much pollution and traffic that's generating. And I'm wondering if there's going to be any kind of car tax, like New York just adopted for its downtown area, or other kinds of incentives to encourage people to move away from driving into the city, to commuting on public transportation. So, that's my question.

  • 12:30:57

    NNAMDIWell, Charlie, thank you very much for your question, but before Kevin Bush can address it, I'll go to Steve in Washington, who has a similar concern. Steve, did Charlie just speak for you?

  • 12:31:07

    STEVEYes, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. With regard to the higher asthma rates in a lot of these environmentally challenged areas of the city, I'm wondering if D.C.'s going to take bold action and implement something like congestion pricing for cars in the city. We have some of the worst traffic in the nation, and not only does it contribute to the causes of climate change, but obviously contributes to a lot of the causes for asthma and poor air quality.

  • 12:31:33


  • 12:31:34

    BUSHOn the congestion pricing issue -- which, you know, a lot of cities are increasingly using. I think London has something similar, too.

  • 12:31:40


  • 12:31:41

    BUSHWe did put a commitment in the Resilient strategy to study that for D.C. There's some unique, you know, implications of the fact that we're the District. We're not a city or a state. We're city, county, state, all in one. So, there are certainly issues that we'd have to work through if something like that were to occur.

  • 12:31:59

    BUSHOn transportation, I think, more broadly, one of the interesting overlaps between, you know, being more resilient to the impacts of climate change and also addressing the underlying causes -- namely, you know, human-caused carbon pollution -- is the preponderance of ways that we're getting now in D.C. to move around, right. You've got cars, obviously, but you also have dockless scooters, dockless bikes, dockless E-bikes. You know, you can catch a Metro or a bus, or you can even walk places. And I personally think that that makes us more resilient, as well.

  • 12:32:33

    BUSHBecause when you look at any of the major events that have happened in the last couple of years, whether that's a major snowstorm or the earthquake, there's really quickly a lot of congestion out on the street. And the folks that get home first aren't the ones that live in faraway suburbs. They're the ones that can walk home, or can bike home. And having that diversity of options from a transportation perspective also makes us more resilient.

  • 12:33:00

    NNAMDIMalini, your research recommends an abolitionist approach to climate justice. What does that look like, in practice?

  • 12:33:07

    RANGANATHANThe project of abolition, of course, in the 1800s, was about abolishing slavery. It was about emancipation. Later, in the early 1900s, abolition became a trope through which African American intellectuals and activists, you know, imagined not as yet one freedom. So, WEB Du Bois, in “Black Reconstruction,” talks about abolition democracy, right, the imperative of building up institutions and systems that are actively antiracist, right. That conversation has also extended to mass incarceration.

  • 12:33:46

    RANGANATHANThe abolition of the carceral state and mass incarceration has to be accompanied by the building up of institutions that would ensure that people are not on a path to prisons in the first place, right. So, it basically aims to attack racism at its roots. And that conversation has been going on for generations in fields that are not environmental and that are not health. And so we call for bringing that conversation into the environment and health fields.

  • 12:34:12

    RANGANATHANAfter all, if EJ activists said that the environment is where we live, play, work, raise our children and grow old, then it's time that, you know, we brought those conversations into this field. And so an abolitionist approach is mentioned -- centers these histories, centers these stories and strategies of grassroots communities that are already practicing resilience, right, without necessarily resorting to outsiders coming in.

  • 12:34:41

    RANGANATHANAnd, essentially, it's about freedom and emancipation, and it's about those not-as-yet won freedoms. And I think it's time that we kind of rethink the environment as freedom, in that sense. And so that's where the abolitionist imperative comes from.

  • 12:34:55

    NNAMDILess than a minute left, but Joe on the eastern shore tweeted: how prepared is the city for a stalled hurricane like Harvey? We are in the cone of uncertainty so often. We've been lucky so far, but it's only a matter of time. Kevin Bush, are we talking about a kind of new normal, here?

  • 12:35:11

    BUSHYeah. I mean, one of the things we know about climate change is that it is already, and will continue to make more frequent the really intense hurricanes. And, in addition, when the oceans are warmer, those tropical storms and hurricanes suck up more moisture from the ocean, so they actually rain down more, as well. And the stalled hurricane is something that, you know, Jacob and I were actually talking to about the interior flooding risks, and why we're looking into where it floods on the inside of the city.

  • 12:35:42

    NNAMDIKevin Bush, thank you so much for joining us. Malini Ranganathan, thank you for joining us.

  • 12:35:47

    RANGANATHANThank you.

  • 12:35:47

    NNAMDIAnd, Jacob Fenston, always a pleasure.

  • 12:35:49

    FENSTONThanks, Kojo.

  • 12:35:50

    NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Maura Currie. Coming up tomorrow, young people around the globe will take to the streets this Friday to demand meaningful action on climate change. We'll meet some of the young climate activists who are helping to organize the D.C. climate strike to learn more about how the next generation plans to fight and to live with climate change. That all starts tomorrow, at noon. Until then, thank you for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

Topics + Tags

Most Recent Shows