Opinions & Editorials

The Midwestern climate change experience

The World Wildlife Fund is a non-governmental organization widely known for advocating wilderness preservation and the reduction of human-caused environmental impact. Its logo? A panda, an animal most commonly found in Asia.

The selection of a panda logo subtly implies to audiences that wildlife and environmental destruction are separate and far away from our everyday lives. For example, had they chosen to represent the organization with a cow, consumers in the United States would have a harder time separating nature conservation and environmentalism from their daily lives, ranging from the food they eat to the clothes they wear.

Because of the notion that climate change is a distant concept, disconnected from our lives, people have a skewed perception of its implications. Often times when people think of climate change, images of sea life struggling to survive because of trash in the ocean and distressed polar bears floating on broken ice caps flood their minds.

Although these issues encompass some of the effects of climate change, they do not paint the full picture. It’s easy to think of climate change as an unfamiliar issue — as though it’s only affecting people you don’t know and places you’ve never been to. But this is not the reality.

Climate change impacts every corner of the world, Cincinnati included. In the Midwest, the primary effects of climate change include extreme heat, heavier rainfall and flooding. These have direct negative impacts on air and water quality, human and environmental health, agriculture, forestry and more.

Throughout the last few years, Cincinnati saw all of these. The damages caused by these occurrences are likely far more widespread than you might imagine. Moreover, the poor disproportionately face the risks implied by these issues.

When extreme heat strikes in the summer, some people are at higher risk of adverse effects than others. The Green Cincinnati Plan — a plan for the city to become a leader in environmentalism founded on sustainability, equity and resilience — highlights the relationship between one’s income, their neighborhood and their physical health.

Heat stroke can set in when an individual is exposed to extreme heat for extended periods of time. The City of Cincinnati states those most at risk for heat stroke include infants and young children, people over age 65, people with a mental illness and people with chronic medical conditions. According to the Green Cincinnati Plan, extreme heat causes more fatalities and hospitalizations than any other weather event. In fact, the dangers of heat stroke are so severe that on days of extreme heat the city opens “Cooling Centers,” where people without access to air conditioning can go and rest.

Although air conditioning might seem like a common amenity, many go without it  due to financial constraints. As climate change intensifies nationwide, those most at risk of heat stroke will become increasingly vulnerable. While some can afford to turn to their air conditioning, their neighbors may be suffering. As air conditioning users turn up their units and enjoy the cold, they flood the air with emissions, which contribute to climate change and widen the gap between themselves and their low-income neighbors. 

While days of extreme heat can go unnoticed by those unaffected by the heat, other aspects of climate change refuse to be ignored. For instance, heavy rainfall and flooding are beginning to occur more regularly in Cincinnati and have the potential to wreak havoc on the city. 

Cincinnati, located on the banks of the Ohio River, frequently experiences heavy rainfall and flooding. While flooding impacts human lives by causing damages to homes and inconvenient and dangerous road closures, there are also adverse environmental effects.

Cincinnati is a city with combined sewers. Combined sewers collect rainwater, household sewage and industrial waste in the same pipes. The sewage is sent to a water treatment plant and then discharged back into the river. However, when there is extreme flooding, the sewers overflow, and untreated waste water goes directly into the river.

Combined sewer overflow poses risks to human and environmental health, as the ecosystem is exposed to bacteria and chemicals. For example, excess nitrogen in untreated wastewater causes algal blooms in the Ohio River.

When the ecosystem suffers from the waste water, Cincinnatians do, too. The flooding increases risk of exposure to harmful substances. In fact, many of the city’s youth soccer fields lie in flood plains, making them subject to potential contaminants from sewer overflow.

The reality of climate change is inescapable. We cannot think of climate change strictly in terms of melting ice caps, rising sea levels and suffering wildlife. The reality is that we are at risk, too, and we must be aware of these issues and how they affect our community.

To learn more about the impacts of climate change in Cincinnati and how the city plans to address it, visit greencincinnatiplan.org.


Charlotte Cheek is a senior Economics, Sustainability and Society (ECOS) major. She is a guest writer from Louisville, Ky.

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