Joe Casola, Climate Impacts Group, University of Washington
Michael Chang, Makah Tribe
Jennifer Cuhaciyan, Bureau of Reclamation
Meghan Dalton, Oregon State University
Scott Lowe, Boise State University
Gary Morishima, Quinault Indian Nation
Philip Mote, Oregon State University
Alexander (Sascha) Petersen, Adaptation International
Gabrielle Roesch-McNally, USDA Forest Service
Emily York, Oregon Health Authority
Beatrice Van Horne, USDA Forest Service, Northwest Climate Hub
Natalie Bennett, Adaptation and Assessment Analyst
Christopher W. Avery, Senior Manager
Susan Aragon-Long, Senior Scientist
<b>May</b>, C., C. Luce, J. Casola, M. Chang, J. Cuhaciyan, M. Dalton, S. Lowe, G. Morishima, P. Mote, A. Petersen, G. Roesch-McNally, and E. York, 2018: Northwest. In <i>Impacts, Risks, and Adaptation in the United States: Fourth National Climate Assessment</i>, Volume II [Reidmiller, D.R., C.W. Avery, D.R. Easterling, K.E. Kunkel, K.L.M. Lewis, T.K. Maycock, and B.C. Stewart (eds.)]. U.S. Global Change Research Program, Washington, DC, USA, pp. 1036–1100. doi: 10.7930/NCA4.2018.CH24
Communities on the front lines of climate change experience the first, and often the worst, effects. Frontline communities in the Northwest include tribes and Indigenous peoples, those most dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods, and the economically disadvantaged. These communities generally prioritize basic needs, such as shelter, food, and transportation; frequently lack economic and political capital; and have fewer resources to prepare for and cope with climate disruptions. The social and cultural cohesion inherent in many of these communities provides a foundation for building community capacity and increasing resilience.
Linkage Between Observed Climate and Regional Risks
Because people care about the place they live, a focus on places serves to highlight the local material and symbolic contexts in which people create their lives and through which those lives derive meaning.206,207 This is true for communities across the Northwest whether or not they are on the frontline of dealing with climate change. While there are many types of frontline communities (those communities likely to experience climate impacts first and worst) in the region, this chapter highlights three sets of communities: tribes (Ch. 15: Tribes), farmworkers, and low-income populations in urban and rural (Ch. 10: Ag & Rural) environments.
The effects of climate variability and extreme events are not felt equally across communities in the Northwest. Frontline communities have higher exposures, are more sensitive, and are less able to adapt to climate change for a variety of reasons (Ch. 14: Human Health, KM 1),187,208,209 including enhanced occupational exposure,210 dependence on natural and cultural resources (Ch. 15: Tribes, KM 1),124 fewer economic resources,209 other demographic factors,211,212 and gender.213 In addition, frontline communities frequently must overcome cumulative exposures125 and intergenerational and historical trauma.125,214 It is the interconnected nature of legacy exposure, enhanced exposure, higher sensitivity, and less capability to adapt that intensifies a community’s climate vulnerability.187,215,216 Climate change can affect the health, well-being, and livelihoods of these communities directly by increasing the risk of acute health impacts, such as physical injury during severe weather,189,209 and indirectly through chronic impacts, such as food insecurity or mental health conditions like PTSD (see Key Message 4) (see also Ch. 15: Tribes, KM 2; Ch. 14: Human Health, KM 1).
Future Climate Change Relevant to Regional Risks
Frontline communities generally prioritize meeting existing basic needs, such as shelter, food, and transportation. While climate-related risks vary from community to community, neighborhood to neighborhood, and even person to person, for frontline communities, climate variability, change, and extreme events can exacerbate existing risks, further limiting their ability to meet basic needs.217
Northwest tribes directly depend on natural resources, both on and off reservations, and are among the first to experience climate impacts. In the United States, the history of colonization, coupled with ongoing management barriers (such as land fragmentation and limited authority and control over natural resources) has led to many challenges for tribal and Indigenous climate adaptation (see Box 24.5) (see also Ch. 15: Tribes, KM 3).124,218 The loss or reduced availability of First Foods (Key Message 2) can have broad physical, cultural, and spiritual impacts, including diabetes, heart disease, mental health impacts, and loss of cultural identity.125,209 This is likely to be coupled with mental health impacts associated with intergenerational and historical trauma, alcohol abuse, suicide, and other impacts (see Key Message 2) (see also Ch. 15: Tribes, KM 2).209
Farmworkers are vital to the region, yet they often earn very low wages and face discrimination and workplace hazards. Farmworkers and their families often deal with both chronic and acute health impacts because of the high cost of healthcare and physically demanding work environments. Overall, farmworkers, who are largely immigrant laborers from Mexico, Central America, and South America, face distinct challenges and are more vulnerable due to structural causes that can lead to exploitation, discrimination, and violence.219 Climate change is projected to exacerbate these existing stressors.
While the Northwest is not typically considered a high-risk area for heat-related illness, heat waves (defined as 5-day, 1-in-10-year events) across the country are projected to increase in frequency and intensity.3 In the Northwest, nighttime heat waves (defined as 3-day, 1-in-100-year events) have a greater influence on human health than daytime heat waves 220 and have increased in frequency since 1901.221 These changes are projected to make heat-related illness more common in the future. Farmworkers can be particularly vulnerable to heat-related illness due to occupational exposure (heavy exertion and working outdoors)210 and to air quality concerns associated with wildfires, yet they often do not seek healthcare because of high costs, language barriers, and fear of deportation.222 Working conditions, as well as cooling and hydration practices, vary across the region.223
In urban environments, economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color live in neighborhoods with the greatest exposure to climate and extreme weather events 224 and are, therefore, disproportionately affected by climate stressors.225,226 Urban heat islands, worsening air quality,227 less access to transit, increasing demands for food and energy, and proximity to pollution sites can lead to injury, illness, and loss of life for the urban poor (Key Message 4).225,228 For instance, in the Northwest, increased risk of heat-related illnesses and deaths has been associated with socioeconomic status, age, race, and occupation (for example, outdoor labor).156,182,229
Challenges, Opportunities, and Success Stories for Reducing Risk
Many frontline communities are taking actions that begin to address these challenges. Indigenous peoples and Northwest tribes have demonstrated a high degree of resilience by adapting to changing environmental and social conditions for thousands of years (Ch. 15: Tribes).124 The strong social networks and connectivity, present in many tribes and Indigenous communities, can reduce vulnerability to climate change (Ch. 15: Tribes, KM 3).230 Efforts to enhance communication and strengthen network connections between tribes and their partners can be seen across the region.
Acknowledging the risk of heat-related illness for outdoor workers, the state of Washington issued rules requiring employers to make specific changes to job sites during the summer season (from May 1 through September 30). For temperatures above certain thresholds, the employer is required to provide at least one quart of water per employee per hour, relieve employees from duty if they are showing signs of heat-related illness, and provide training for employees and supervisors about heat-related illness.232
Economically disadvantaged populations and communities of color often face multiple barriers to participating in public processes where decisions about future climate-related investments are made. Organizations representing these frontline communities have found some success prioritizing leadership development through workshops and training that enable new and emerging voices to be heard in more formal policy settings. Engagement has partly been made possible by providing transportation, childcare, meals, and accessibility and by using a relational worldview and trauma-informed approach to community capacity-building. Cities and counties have also made concerted efforts at the policy level to explicitly acknowledge and address race and social inequities alongside environmental concerns.147,228,233,234,235 Example actions include targeting investments in frontline communities and providing job training and employment opportunities that help limit displacement and enhance resilience.147
There is an emerging understanding of the importance of not only prioritizing climate change preparedness efforts in frontline communities but also involving and empowering these groups in the decision-making and implementation of climate change plans and actions.
The physical and psychological connections people have with natural resources are complex, and additional research would aid understanding of how changing climate conditions are likely to affect not only those natural resources but also the people who depend on them. How intersecting vulnerabilities, driven by a confluence of climatic, social, and economic factors, will compound and accelerate risks in frontline communities is not yet fully understood (Ch. 17: Complex Systems, KM 1). Additional research would help to measure and evaluate how supporting frontline communities in the implementation of community-identified strategies might improve outcomes and increase not only climate resilience but also equity and economic vitality in the Northwest and across the country.