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Some of New Orleans' most underserved residents are addressing ways to combat climate change impacts in their communities.
New Orleans is no stranger to the impacts of climate change. It's one of the most vulnerable cities in the country.
According to The National Academies, from 1991 to 2020, temperatures in New Orleans increased over 2 degrees. Higher emissions could push temps another 5.8 to 9 degrees by late this century.
The combination of higher heat, low elevation, and coastal erosion makes the city more susceptible to increased flooding, sea level rise and more frequent and intense storms.
Data from Risk Factor shows over 150,000 New Orleans properties have more than a 26% chance of being severely impacted by flooding over the next 30 years. That's 99% of the properties in the city. And people who live there are looking for ways to mitigate the flooding and excessive heat.
Katherine Prevost is a community leader of the Bunny Friend Neighborhood Association in the Upper 9th Ward. She's taking matters into her own hands, and her solution is green infrastructure.
"I just want my residents to be educated enough to talk about green infrastructure. I want them to be able to talk about storm water drains, storm water feeds, how much water is going to be absorbed on my property if I put this stuff down," she said. "I want to give them a chance because nobody is going to teach them this. Nobody is going to tell them this — not inside an African American community."
The Bunny Friend Community is home to some of the most underserved residents in New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina destroyed the community and residents were left to rebuild.
They collaborated with a partner to bring green infrastructure to their community.
"Nature does a lot of good work for us. And as far as New Orleans — being a city that is really threatened by climate change and by flooding — I really want to introduce how living with nature can help us combat climate change," Water Wise Gulf South Executive Director Jeffery Supak said.
Green infrastructure is a way to manage water by using systems that protect, restore, and mimic the natural water cycle. Its tools can provide cleaner air, curb flooding, create a habitat for wildlife and beautify a neighborhood.
And for the Bunny Friend Community, where Madeline Bachemin lives, it's making a difference.
"It gives you the opportunity to upgrade your property, your neighborhood and your community," she said. "It seems to absorb more water so I don't have to worry about the flooding in my block."
Bachemin began implementing green infrastructure on her property after meeting Supak. Water Wise Gulf South is an organization that works in the Upper 9th Ward to construct and teach residents about green infrastructure.
"With climate change already happening here, we're seeing more intense rainstorm events. So, flooding has become more of a nuisance to people," Supak said. "This is not the same flooding we used to get years ago. It's different — it's more common, it's more chronic and people are fed up with it."
Green infrastructure helps mitigate flooding by reducing the water that goes into storm drains. Instead, it's absorbed in the ground or collected in rain barrels.
"When you do bioswells — even with the trees that are planted — or you do permeable pavers or anything like that, the water has a place to go," New Orleans resident Corbie Johnson said. "Even if you have plants, even with doing a rain barrel — you have a rain barrel where it is collecting the water...You're utilizing that water. Instead of the water going into the ground, it's going some place where it can be utilized properly."
Earth's rising temperature could mean added trouble for New Orleans. Hotter air holds more moisture and that could add up to heavier rain and increased flooding.
The city could also see more frequent and more intense storms as ocean temperatures continue to rise.
Dan Favre with the Greater New Orleans Foundation says people are the key to mitigating these impacts, especially in communities of color.
"There are historical systems of racial inequity that are really entrenched that we see come up again when it comes to these environmental issues and impacts of climate change," he said. "And we do need a break. We need to be able to break these systems and these cycles and I think that happens by ensuring that people are actually a part of the decision-making processes and that there are community-led climate solutions that help us get out of these really problematic situations."
The Greater New Orleans Foundation works with community-led organizations to make sure they get what they need and the solutions are working.
And one solution, at least for Prevost's neighborhood, is trees.
"We have a lot of residents that don't have cars. A lot of our residents still catch the bus, a lot of our residents walk with their kids; They don't have any trees to stand under to fight that heat," she said. "We don't have any trees in some of the neighborhoods at all. And I think it was on design, because it's an environmentally unjust community. It's predominately African American. And now that we're learning about the heat island effect, we need trees. Trees are very important to us. It's so hot here and a space like this makes it so much cooler. So we know the trees are working."
That cool spot in her neighborhood is the community garden. Prevost has poured a lot of love and green infrastructure into it.
"All of my stuff that I have inside of here is native. I try not to put anything that is not native to Louisiana," she continued. "I think residential engagement is very important because I can't do the things that I need to do without them. Just like this lot here, the residents did this. I was their spokesperson, but the residents did this."
Residents have helped advocate for solar panels to charge their phones, trees to provide shade and permeable pavers to help absorb excess water. And they ultimately created a space to they're proud of.
SCRIPPS NEWS' STEPHEN GRADDICK IV: You see something beautiful in your neighborhood, you want to protect it.
KATHERINE PREVOST: Yes. I do think that. I do think that. They're not going to let you come trample on it.
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