Towards a climate resilient Austin, the health implications of climate change on vulnerable communities in Austin

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Coudert, Marc François

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According to the recently released National Climate Assessment (NCA), climate change will disproportionally impact the health of the most vulnerable communities in Central Texas (Melillo, 2014). Exactly how climate change will impact these populations is unclear (Measham, 2011; Martens, 2014). Nationwide, there are few examples of cities looking at the impacts of climate change on existing public health issues and vulnerable communities. The NCA, Austin/Travis County Community Health Assessment (CHA) and Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), broadly identifies vulnerable communities as children, the elderly, the sick, the poor, and some communities of color (Melillo, 2014: Luber, 2009). The 2014 release of the NCA, in addition to the 2013 completion of the CHA and CHIP, provides an opportunity to compare current public health issues with projected changes in climate.

The deductive process starts with a review of the CHA and CHIP to identify issues that are directly impacted by hotter and longer heat waves including a lack of physical activity, a decrease in mobility, and greater social isolation. These issues are then compared to likely climate scenarios for Austin in the coming century. For Austin, climate scientists project longer and hotter heat waves and higher overnight average temperatures. The results of the process are a hypothetical framework and specific actions to incorporate increasing temperatures into short-term and long-term health improvement planning.

Comparing the NCA and CHA/CHIP reveals that an increase in intensity and duration of heat waves will make it especially dangerous for vulnerable communities who already struggle with health issues sensitive to heat such as obesity, respiratory ailments, and social isolation (Martens, 2014). Further analysis finds that the health implications of climate change come down to three broad topics: outdoor physical activities, lack of access to healthcare facilities, and isolation.

Austin’s increasing temperatures and growing population means that more resources and efforts are needed to ensure the safety of all Austin residents. In this thesis, I put forth a hypothetical decision-making framework that prioritizes the allocation of resources to advance Austin’s pathway to climate resiliency. In addition, tools and actions are proposed to increase the climate resilience of the most vulnerable community members in Austin.




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