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How will climate change influence flooding and pollution in America’s underserved communities? New study seeks answers


Urban planning researchers at Texas A&M will soon begin the urgent task of projecting how climate change will affect future flooding patterns, air pollution, and how they specifically affect underserved communities, as part of a major new study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

“Climate conditions will change in the coming decades,” said Michelle Meyer, director of Texas A&M’s Hazard Reduction & Recovery Center and one of the lead scholars in the study. “We don’t know how future land use changes will affect the water cycle, water infrastructure, and air pollution levels, or how community-level investments and development changes will reduce climate impacts or disrupt current environmental processes.”  

The critical need, she said, is for better and planning to support climate adaptation—specifically in rapidly urbanizing areas with fewer resources along the Gulf Coast.

This knowledge is critical to community leaders and planners, who must make strategic decisions about the design of and funding for community infrastructures to deal with these changes over the next several decades.

Meyer will be joined in the study by Aggie urban planning scholars Dongying Li, Galen Newman and Nathanael Rosenheim, plus Garrett Sansom, a research assistant professor with the Texas A&M School of Public Health, and experts in community engagement from Texas A&M’s Texas Target Communities service-learning program.

These scholars will be part of a larger group of project researchers focusing on the Beaumont-Port Arthur urban area to understand the complex intersection of climate adaptation needs, population diversity, natural hazard vulnerability, and ecological richness that characterize many urban centers along the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The area is also home to one of the nation’s largest petrochemical industrial complexes that is important to the national economy, but also vulnerable to damage and toxic releases during climate-induced disasters, in addition to chronic air and water toxic exposures that can raise the risk of cancer and other adverse health outcomes for local residents.

“The area includes a high number of people in traditionally underserved communities who have less access to health care and healthy environments, along with lower incomes that affect the amount of resources they have to adapt to changing environmental conditions,” said Meyer. These dynamics provide an appropriate area for learning how to ensure equity is increased when communities undertake climate change adaptation strategies.