Building a Green Texas: Activating a New Generation of Sustainability Leaders
Climate change disproportionately impacts low-income and otherwise marginalized communities that typically have the fewest resources to adapt. Furthermore, the very communities that feel the effects of climate change most acutely have been historically underrepresented in the fields of sustainability and green building. The Building a Green Texas (BGT) project helps address these concerns by giving high school students opportunities to develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence to tackle challenges posed by climate change. In the process, students gain valuable green career skills and credentials and become part of a green building school-to-job pipeline that will help contribute to a more diverse workforce. Texas-based nonprofit EcoRise, the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Texas Marine Science Institute/National Estuarine Reserve System of NOAA’s Office for Coastal Management will lead this robust, three-year project beginning in Central Texas in Year 1 and expanding into Houston and Texas Gulf Coast communities in Year 2. Through school-year field experiences and paid summer internships, students in the program will use established scientific evidence, citizen science, and an understanding of location-specific socioeconomic and ecological factors to explore current and future extreme weather phenomena and other environmental hazards facing their communities. They will gain real-world learning experiences and career exposure by directly engaging with scientists, civic leaders, green building professionals, and NOAA data and staff. As students help design community-based green building projects, they will consider scientific uncertainty, cultural knowledge, and social equity, in the real-world context of improving community resilience.
Increasing Sea-Level Rise Resilience in the Northern Gulf of Mexico
Sea-level rise (SLR) will disproportionately affect the northern Gulf of Mexico (nGOM; coastal Mississippi, Alabama, and northwest Florida) due to a confluence of socioeconomic challenges (e.g., vulnerable industry, low per capita income, low level of educational attainment, etc.), higher than average rates of SLR, and low-lying topography. Resilience of nGOM social, economic, and cultural resources in the face of SLR requires an informed and engaged constituency and leadership that understands their risks, SLR adaptation options, and the civic processes required for action. Multiple formal and informal needs assessments have identified specific educational and informational gaps that act as barriers to SLR action in nGOM coastal communities. To address the SLR resilience barriers identified by nGOM stakeholders and decision-makers, the project team will implement a comprehensive and diverse education program that engages multiple sectors within coastal communities including youth, educators, municipal officials, concerned citizens, and non-participants (i.e., those who have not yet been engaged in dialogue around SLR resilience). The goal of the project is science and civics literate constituencies in the northern Gulf of Mexico that can actively support cultures, economies, and ecosystems that are resilient to SLR. This goal will be achieved by developing an inclusive SLR education program that spans ages, locations, and demographics. There are three categories of project activities targeting different community sectors: 1) educator workshops encouraging application of an existing SLR curriculum for high school students; 2) Community Connection Dialogues that connect community leaders working on SLR with engaged constituents to inform and empower future action; and 3) pop-in immersive SLR experiences at “every day” locations (e.g., baseball games, art walks) to reach those without the means/motivation to engage in SLR resilience. The SLR curriculum, Community Connection Dialogues, and Pop-Ins are three parts of a whole that work to bring community members at all levels of understanding and engagement into the conversation and direct them towards the next step in their pathway to SLR community resilience. This work is being led by Mississippi State University in partnership with the Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium, Dauphin Island Sea Lab, Alabama School of Mathematics and Science, Gulf of Mexico Alliance, and the University of South Alabama. Collaborators from across the region will include the Mississippi State University Gulf Coast Community Design Studio, the five Gulf National Estuarine Research Reserves, Audubon Nature Institute, 350 Pensacola, League of Women Voters of Mobile, EEECHO, Ocean Springs Environmental Committee, UF/IFAS, Perdido & Pensacola Bays Estuary Program, Better Growth Mobile, Cities of Ocean Springs, MS and Pensacola, FL, Counties of Jackson, MS and Santa Rosa, FL, and the GoM Climate and Resilience Community of Practice.
Climate Resilience and Community-driven Action With a Hyperlocalized Public Forum
The Science Museum of Virginia will build upon its community science experience and its role as a trusted source of climate science information to lead “Climate Resilience and Community-driven Action with a Hyperlocalized Public Forum in Richmond, VA” in partnership with Virginia Community Voice, Groundwork RVA, Happily Natural Day, and Southside ReLeaf - local nonprofits with proven track records of effecting change through community engagement and urban greening initiatives. This project supports Richmond’s work to heal social, racial, and environmental injustices by increasing community resilience to climate change through placemaking. Richmond served as both the Capital of the Confederacy and the United States’ second largest trading port for enslaved persons during the 19th century. In the 1930s and 1940s, redlining - the systematic denial of access to home loans, mortgage insurance, or credit based on an applicant’s race or ethnicity - effectively segregated people of color into less desirable urban neighborhoods. Research conducted both in Richmond and nationwide demonstrates that, today, formerly redlined neighborhoods tend to be significantly hotter, more prone to flooding, and experience poorer air quality than non-redlined areas. These neighborhoods also tend to be home to individuals - mostly Black and brown - with the fewest resources to adapt to the health and financial impacts of human-caused climate change, which continues to intensify each year. Richmond’s mayor and Office of Sustainability support this project, which will align community vision with existing planning efforts that seek to build a Richmond that is “a sustainable and resilient city with healthy air, clean water, and a flourishing ecosystem that nurtures healthy communities, increases resiliency to the effects of a changing climate through adaptation and mitigation, develops the built environment to enhance natural assets, and ensures all people have access to nature and healthy communities.” Because resiliency is a process, youth and adults participating in this project will explore hazards (specifically flooding and extreme heat); assess their vulnerability and risks (determine how climate change is currently harming, or will most likely harm, neighborhoods); investigate options (by determining which resilience-building strategies are most effective for each community and vision); prioritize and plan local resilience-building strategies (ensuring that residents’ vision can be realized); and take action by implementing and sustaining projects in the community with project partners. Strategies may include placemaking through planting trees, building permeable pathways, constructing shade structures, and creating community gardens to provide shade, fresh food, and neighborhood gathering spaces, as well as rainwater harvesting and bioretention rain gardens to mitigate stormwater issues. This project is unique because it will actively support nonprofits that engage historically underserved people whose voice is commonly left out of City planning efforts, increase their environmental literacy, and provide resources needed to enact their vision. RK&A will evaluate the project, which will build upon evaluation data from the Science Museum’s previous NOAA ELP-funded project - “Learn, Prepare, Act - Resilient Citizens Make Resilient Communities” - and a NOAA-funded project by the Museum of Science Boston - “Citizen Science, Civics, and Resilient Communities: Increasing Resilience Through Citizen-Created Data, Local Knowledge and Community Values.”