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National climate report features Kinder Institute research on Harris County disasters

RESEARCH :  Nov. 20, 2023 HEALTH

Snow among the trees

A new comprehensive federal report documenting the effects of climate change across the country includes Kinder Institute research to bring attention to Harris County’s vulnerabilities.

The Fifth National Climate Assessment was released Nov. 14.

“Climate change has profound negative effects on human health,” the Department of Health and Human Services reported. “(The report) documents climate change’s severe health impacts on many populations and highlights the especially strong risk of climate-related harms to people with few material resources.”

With more than 1,500 pages, the report was compiled with the help of “nearly 500 authors and 250 contributors from every state, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.” The Kinder Institute data can be found in the chapter focusing on the Southern Great Plains, which includes Texas.

The Kinder Institute’s Harris County Winter Storm Uri Resilience Assessment was cited, as it addressed the storm’s impact on socially vulnerable populations and examined the compounding effects of Uri, Hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic.

About a third of the federally declared disasters Houston experienced from 1982 to 2022 occurred in 2015 or later. “Devastating floods occurred in April 2016 (the “Tax Day Flood”), August 2017 (Hurricane Harvey), September 2019 (Tropical Storm Imelda) and September 2020 (Tropical Storm Beta)," according to the National Climate Assessment. "In August 2011, residents experienced 24 days of air temperatures above 98° F. The February 2021 cold outbreak crippled much of Houston’s energy and water systems. The effects of these disasters compound, amplifying harm to populations especially at risk.”

The Kinder Institute report concluded that Harris County should focus on numerous courses of action in order to mitigate the impacts of future disasters, including:

• Considering establishing programs for providing direct cash assistance during disaster recovery, which could also help to address poverty in the county.

• Investing in preparedness measures during the “off-season,” including data collection, community infrastructure and household supports.

• Implementing preventative weatherization programs to prepare households in low-income neighborhoods for different types of disasters.

• Collecting more data about landlords, which would help stakeholders better understand the dynamics of a soon-to-be renter-majority county.

Also cited in the National Climate Assessment was the 2021 Kinder Houston Area Survey. The assessment specifically used demographic data from the survey that showed “more than a third of all area residents indicated that they would not be able to come up with $400 to meet an emergency expense, one-fourth said they have no health insurance (and) more than a fourth said they had difficulty paying for housing.”

Surveys conducted since 2021 show these conditions have worsened for many Harris County residents. In the 2023 Kinder Houston Area Survey, 43% said they could not afford a $400 emergency. Additionally, 57% of Houstonians surveyed this summer said they worried about making their rent or mortgage payment.

The National Climate Assessment, mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990, is a periodic update delivered to Congress and the president that “discusses the scientific uncertainties associated with such findings; analyzes the effects of global change on the natural environment, agriculture, energy production and use, land and water resources, transportation, human health and welfare, human social systems and biological diversity; and analyzes current trends in global change, both human-induced and natural, and projects major trends for the subsequent 25 to 100 years.” The previous assessment was released in November 2018.

RELATED INITIATIVES
Kinder Houston Area Survey

For over four decades, the Kinder Houston Area Survey has been tracking the changing attitudes and experiences of Houstonians.

DEMOGRAPHICS
RELATED RESEARCH
Harris County Winter Storm Uri Resilience Assessment
Feb. 23, 2022

This report provides a geographic analysis of damage caused by Winter Storm Uri and highlights the unmet needs it uncovered. This assessment also analyzed damages from COVID-19 and Hurricane Harvey to better understand how these crises compound on different communities and to identify where recovery efforts might make the biggest impact.

COVID 19 AND CITIES | GOVERNANCE
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