By Gabriel Griffith
Pasadena Weekly Guest Writer

From extreme heat and destructive wildfires to severe droughts, human-induced weather events have become a daily fixture of life today in California and beyond. But despite Mother Earth’s warning signs, the gap between what we should do to reduce the impacts of climate change and what actions we are actually taking is wide — and getting wider.   

However, these natural disasters do not play out in a vacuum. During climate-related emergencies, disabled people might be disproportionally affected because of structural challenges inherent in our community.

Taking its toll

As we have seen in recent years, wildfires can start and rapidly spread with little warning.  Evacuation orders may come too late, especially for those with additional mobility considerations. Even excessively hot days can be life threatening, with a variety of conditions such as spinal injuries making it difficult for the body to regulate temperature. Social factors, too, are a consideration here, given that residents with disabilities are more likely to experience poverty or inadequate housing that may not have air conditioning.

Compromised health also makes disabled people more vulnerable to extreme climate events, ecosystem service loss or infectious diseases. In a climate emergency, disabled people may be more vulnerable to contracting infectious diseases because of underlying conditions. For example, Hurricane Katrina was found to disproportionately impact more than 100,000 people with disabilities ranging from visual and physical impairments to learning disabilities. Even in non-extreme events, like air pollution, health can be compromised in the long term, especially for vulnerable populations.

Despite the current gap, our state is working to make important progress in fighting climate change. Progress starts with using more clean energy resources.  Harnessing solar and wind capabilities will only become more imperative over time, but most people use more energy at home in the evenings, which is the same time that the availability of these clean energy sources become limited.

As part of California Council of the Blind, we are steadfast in working with our chapters across the state to bring awareness to using cleaner energy. The state’s electrical grid is increasingly powered by clean, renewable sources of energy — when the sun is out, and the wind is blowing. However, the challenge remains in the late afternoon and evening, when demand for energy peaks. Between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m., electricity is more likely to be produced by carbon-intensive energy sources, emitting greenhouse gases.

We need to understand that when we use electricity does matter — not just how much electricity we use. Los Angeles County has begun to undergo a transition to a new rate plan which encourages use of cleaner energy. This transition is happening statewide to help Californians have more control of when they use energy.

Our team is being asked about how to do household chores, make dinner, help children with homework — all activities that happen between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. It’s important for everyone to hear this. The state is not asking Californians to not use energy, change their lifestyles or turn their schedules upside down. Instead, it encourages Californians to shift use to parts of the day when electricity from renewable resources (such as solar and wind) is more readily available. When making dinner, turn off the TV in the living room. Think about ways to shift laundry to the morning.

With extreme weather events and disasters set to increase in a warming climate, it is vital that the disabled population be taken into consideration. In the conversation around the shift to use cleaner energy because they are impacted even more.

The coming years will be defining – deferring ambition and action is no longer an option. Together, we can close the gap between “should do” and real action. For information, visit energyupgradeca.org.

Gabriel Griffith is the president of the California Council of the Blind (CCB), having also served as the organization’s vice president and, prior to that, as a technical support representative at HumanWare. Through CCB’s office in Sacramento and its 40 local chapters and statewide special interest associations, the council provides information and referral, technical assistance, advocacy, leadership development, publications, emergency funds, accessible technology loans, and scholarships.