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The City of Asheville issued the 2018 Climate Resilience Assessment which identified the primary climate threats (flooding, landslides, wildfire and extreme heat), along with other areas of climate vulnerability (water shortage, runoff and erosion).
The ultimate goal isn’t just to combat climate change but also its disproportionate impact on low wealth communities and communities of color. The measure explores and defines Climate Equity and Climate Justice and creates a roadmap to address impacts of the climate crisis that the city is already experiencing. The initiative says that since climate change does not impact all communities equally, resources should not be distributed equally.
In the two years since the Resolution was passed, the Office of Sustainability has provideed the city with concrete ways to implement climate justice into its procedures, policies and plans. It also unveiled a set of tools that will allow those in charge to better distribute resources to communities at higher risk of climate change-related damage and help area residents better plan for what’s coming.
The Climate Justice Guide is a detailed overview and explanation of the initiatives and measures. The Climate Justice Data Map was created to identify and visualize ‘hot spots’ in the context of the social and economic factors that compound them. The Climate Justice Screening Tool recognizes disparities, identifies the root causes and offers possible solutions to disrupt inequities. It evaluates the city's actions on everything from budgeting and project design to legislative decisions through a climate justice lens. The interactive Climate Justice Index map, also part of the initiative, allows residents to assess their community’s ability to handle climate events.
While the initiative works to address environmental justice issues, the Asheville based volunteer environmental justice organization Community Roots is working to enact a Climate Bill of Rights that would create the legal right of ecosystems within the City of Asheville and other pieces of the natural world to be free from destruction, extraction and pollution.
Currently, nature is considered property from which resources can be extracted at any expense, a model Community Roots says has resulted in unsustainable environmental degradation and widespread social injustice. Community Roots is part of the Rights of Nature movement, which states that ecosystems “have the right to exist, to regenerate their vital cycles, to evolve and flourish outside of human interference.”
The proposed Climate Bill of Rights would also codify certain rights for Asheville citizens. Residents would be guaranteed the right to live in a place without soil, air and water pollution and have a guaranteed right to sustainable energy production. They would be allowed to oppose any mandated agreement with a utility company that uses fossil fuels.
Community Roots worked to get a Climate Bill of Rights initiative on the 2020 ballot but failed to collect the required 10,000 signatures from residents within the city limits. They fell short by 27 but are trying again for 2022.
**Cover photo: Beaver Lake, Asheville. Credit: Melinda Young Stuart