Gulf of Mexico
CHRIS GRANGER / THE TIMES-PICAYUNE

LA - Home of Uncertainty: The costs of climate change hit housing

It was 117 degrees in the normally temperate Pacific Northwest late last month. A few days later, an entire town in British Columbia was nearly wiped off the map when it was hit by an eerie phenomenon known as “fire clouds” and wildfires. Not to be outdone, the Gulf of Mexico then caught on fire when a pipeline ruptured.

We’re well past the point of recognizing that climate change is not only real, but having an impact on our daily lives. Even the most well-greased petrochemical lobbyists understand this, even if it’s only when they fall asleep on beds made of money. Save for the cluster of billionaires who have the comfort of knowing they can launch themselves into outer space, the rest of us are feeling the effects in our wallets and in our homes.

“People are already paying for climate change,” says Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the Alliance for Affordable Energy, a consumer advocate nonprofit for utility customers.

In 2020, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported the United States experienced a record-high 22 weather- and climate-related catastrophes, each one costing at least $1 billion — ranging from West Coast wildfires to deadly winter storms in Texas and a slew of hurricanes that pummeled the South. 

The everyday costs of climate change are harder to quantify — how much do your power bills go up because of more usage, versus the cost of supply to the company, or just simple corporate greed? But there is no doubt we all are feeling them, especially when it comes to housing where everything from heating bills to insurance to rent is constantly on the rise.

And for people facing housing challenges, those costs can be deadly. For example, residents in poorer neighborhoods deal with higher temperatures from “heat islands.”

“Being exposed to prolonged high temperatures can make people not just uncomfortable but it can have a negative effect on everything from their ability to breathe to their cognitive abilities,” says Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “So higher temperatures have a variety of health consequences for individuals — and that means consequences for the public as a whole.”

The everyday costs of climate change are harder to quantify — how much do your power bills go up because of more usage, versus the cost of supply to the company, or just simple corporate greed? But there is no doubt we all are feeling them, especially when it comes to housing where everything from heating bills to insurance to rent is constantly on the rise.

And for people facing housing challenges, those costs can be deadly. For example, residents in poorer neighborhoods deal with higher temperatures from “heat islands.”

“Being exposed to prolonged high temperatures can make people not just uncomfortable but it can have a negative effect on everything from their ability to breathe to their cognitive abilities,” says Cashauna Hill, executive director of the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center. “So higher temperatures have a variety of health consequences for individuals — and that means consequences for the public as a whole.”

South Louisiana, of course, has long been on the forefront of climate change, with its shrinking coastline and constant storms — and its politicians’ hospitable embrace of petrochemical companies that exacerbate its problems. It’s a time-honored summertime tradition that has ramped up recently: Year after year, New Orleanians brace themselves for extreme weather events, like hurricanes, flooding and soaring temperatures that send us inside to spoon with our overworked air conditioning units bracing for high power bills.

In June alone, NOLA Ready, the city’s office of emergency preparedness and response, issued six warnings of potential floods in low-lying areas and one “excessive heat” warning, plus another for a tropical storm. And while this puts all of us on edge, it is especially dangerous for some of the city’s most vulnerable, low-income residents.

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