When I first moved to Alabama five years ago, just about all I knew about the state was that it was hot, and Montgomery was known as both the cradle of the Confederacy and the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement. But mostly, it was hot. So last week when we had what amounted to a cold snap—about three days of weather in the 50s—conversations usually started with some variation on the theme of global warming: “So much for global warming,” someone would say. Or, “We really could use some of that global warming about now.”
If only it were that easy to turn global warming on and off like a switch. For a lot of us, global warming is a euphemism for climate change, something we don’t fully understand, something happening somewhere else—certainly “not in my backyard.” Even in sweltering Alabama, we don’t talk about global warming until it gets cold. But climate change is happening, and it is in our backyard.
For the past few months, I’ve been working with my colleagues on Oxfam’s newest report “Exposed: Social vulnerability and climate change in the US Southeast.” There are two things in particular I love about this report. First, it takes a hard look at the US. Yes, climate change is happening all over the world, but it’s also happening right here at home. Second, this report gives us the tools to pinpoint which communities in the Southeast are most vulnerable to disasters—and it’s not always where you might think—by looking simultaneously at climate change related hazards (like drought, sea-level rise, flooding, and hurricane winds) and social vulnerability.
As of today, the report is live and I invite you to check it out and the accompanying website. Every county in the Southeast is represented in this report, and just about every county will be affected in some way. Oxfam will be sharing our findings widely with state and federal officials and advocates. Our goal is to highlight which areas are most vulnerable to climate change related disasters so that we can help these communities prepare to withstand disasters—before they strike.
With luck, we can begin to change some of the conversation around global warming.