The climate gap refers to a body of data indicating disparities in how climate change impacts various racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups in the United States. The data show that low socioeconomic status groups and racial and ethnic minorities will experience more negative health and economic impacts from the results of climate change than other populations in the United States. This term, climate gap, was first used in the May 2009 report, “The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap”, as well as in a concurrent paper published in the journal, Environmental Justice, by Seth B. Shonkoff, Rachel Morello-Frosch and colleagues entitled, "Minding the Climate Gap: Implications of Environmental Health Inequities for Mitigation Policies in California".
Disparate health impacts of climate change
Extreme weather events, such as heat waves, droughts and floods, are expected to increase in their frequency and intensity in the next hundred years due to climate change. Low socioeconomic status groups and racial and ethnic minorities are affected by heat-related illness at greater rates due to factors such as lack of access to air conditioning, lack of transportation, occupations that require outdoor work and the heat-island effect in urban neighborhoods.
Higher temperatures resulting from climate change will also increase chemical interactions between nitrogen oxide, volatile organic gases and sunlight, leading to increased concentrations of ambient ozone in urban areas. Along with particulate matter, ozone is a primary cause of air pollution-related health effects. Low socioeconomic status groups and racial and ethnic minorities in the United States are more likely to live in areas with dangerous levels of air pollution. This pollution will be exacerbated by climate change, and low socioeconomic status groups and racial and ethnic minorities are more likely to lack health insurance, making them increasingly vulnerable to these elevated levels of air pollutants.
Disparate economic impacts of climate change
The proportion of income that low socioeconomic status groups spend on basic necessities such as food, water and energy is already greater than the proportion spent by other populations and is expected to increase as the cost of these necessities increases due to climate change.
Additionally, job sectors that employ predominantly low socioeconomic status groups and racial and ethnic minorities such as the agriculture and tourism industries are projected to experience the most dramatic shifts due to climate change, reducing employment opportunities for these populations.
Also, due to the lack of access to insurance and emergency credit, less savings, fewer personal resources and disproportionate hardships from previous economic stress, low socioeconomic status groups and racial and ethnic minorities are likely to suffer the most pronounced and long-lasting economic impacts from climate change-related extreme weather events such as hurricanes.
- Climate ethics
- Climate justice
- Global warming
- Environmental justice
- Climate change in the United States
- Shonkoff SB, Morello-Frosch R, Pastor M, Sadd J. 2009. "Minding the Climate Gap: Implications of Environmental Health Inequities for Mitigation Policies" in California Environmental Justice 2(4): 173-177.
- Shonkoff SB, Morello-Frosch R, Pastor M, Sadd J. 2009. Environmental Health and Equity Impacts from Climate Change and Mitigation Policies in California: A Review of the Literature. Publication # CEC-500-2009-038-D. Available at: http://www.climatechange.ca.gov/publications/cat/index.html
- BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics). 2002. Consumer expenditure survey. Washington D.C.
- EDD (California Employment Development Department). 2004. Occupational Employment (2002) and Wage (2003) Data, Occupational Employment Statistics Survey Results. Sacramento, California.