AUSTIN (KXAN) — Researchers with the University of Texas announced a new project earlier this month that will hopefully provide valuable data to the community: the Climate Atlas. The interactive map, funded by a grant from NASA, will highlight the neighborhoods in Austin being impacted by climate change.
For some Austin neighborhoods, this data could be useful in fighting for their future.
“There are some communities that have been dealing with climate shocks and stressors far more frequently,” said Carmen Llanes, executive director for Go Austin! Vamos Austin! (GAVA), a coalition fighting for health equity in Austin’s eastern crescent.
“We want a world where I can’t predict your health outcomes by your ZIP code, by your race, your income,” Llanes said. GAVA and other local activists are working with the team of UT researchers to develop the Climate Atlas.
“Our whole approach to this is trying to create something that provides actionable information where, that community groups can use and that the city can act on,” said project lead Assistant Professor Patrick Bixler with UT’s LBJ School of Public Affairs.
Bixler said this is the first NASA-funded project to focus on environmental justice. It will take two years to complete.
How will the Climate Atlas work?
The atlas, according to Bixler, will be an interactive map. It will be available to the public. Users will be able to see how different climate events have affected neighborhoods in the past and see how they’ve gotten more extreme. It will not, according to Bixler, use models to forecast future climate patterns.
The atlas will focus on Austin and Austin neighborhoods. Bixler said it will be able to highlight how events like flooding have impacted individual communities. This information could be used by community activists when presenting to city leaders.
“If like, two neighborhoods are exposed to the same level of, let’s say, flooding risk, but one is a wealthy neighborhood, one’s a low-income neighborhood, that low-income neighborhood is going to have a harder time recovering after a flood event occurs,” Bixler said.
Community groups like GAVA are contributing data to the Climate Atlas about the neighborhoods they work with. GAVA fights for neighborhoods in the south Austin, Rundberg and Dove Springs areas.
Dove Springs has already dealt with the impacts of climate change during the 2013 and 2015 floods.
“If we don’t learn from history, from the lived experience of people who are experiencing heat and flooding the worst right now, we’re going to miss the mark,” Llanes said.
While Llanes thinks the tool could prove useful, she has some reservations.
“It means nothing to communities who are directly impacted if we don’t do something with it. If our decision-makers don’t act and follow the lead of directly impacted people, so ultimately, that’s going to determine how useful this tool is,” Llanes said.