UCLA Study Reveals Increased Climate Change Risks for Same-Sex Couples

UCLA Study Reveals Increased Climate Change Risks for Same-Sex Couples
Image: Photo by Ousa Chea on Unsplash

A recent report by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law has reported that same-sex couples face an increased risk of being impacted by the adverse effects of climate change, compared to heterosexual couples.

The report notes that these effects include flooding, tornadoes, wildfires, hail, and lightning.

Same-sex couples disproportionately live in coastal regions and cities, major urban centres, and areas lacking adequate infrastructure to withstand climate-related emergencies. This combination of factors results in queer couples being susceptible to the adverse impacts of climate hazards.

Researchers used U.S. Census data alongside climate risk assessment data sourced from NASA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

They conducted a geospatial analysis  cuts against the narratives that LGBT people often live in safe pockets of coastal cities where they have access to all the resources that they need, “utilising statistical modelling techniques to evaluate the climate risk affecting same-sex couples.

According to the leading researchers, the findings “have meaningful implications for our understanding of the geographic and environmental vulnerabilities of LGBT people that compound and exacerbate their exposure to the negative effects of climate change”.

Climate Risks Amplified: Impact on Same-Sex Couples

Washington, D.C  has the highest proportion of same-sex couples in the United States and scored high for a variety of climate risks, including heat waves (97th percentile), flooding (95th percentile), and dangerously strong winds (98th percentile).

The study also revealed that San Francisco County has the second-largest percentage of same-sex couples nationwide. This heightened risk linked to national hazards further complicates the lives of its residents.

Director of International Programs at UCLA’s School of Law’s Williams Institute, Ari Shaw noted that the study  “cuts against the narrative that LGBT people often live in safe pockets of coastal cities where they have access to all the resources that they need”.

Shaw emphasised the necessity for climate change policies to address the unique challenges faced by LGBTQ populations.

“Given the disparate impact of climate change on LGBTQ populations, climate change policies, including disaster preparedness, response, and recovery plans, must address the specific needs and vulnerabilities facing LGBTQ people,” Shaw said.

The researchers emphasise that policies must prioritise addressing the unique challenges faced by LGBT populations, given the increased likelihood to reside in areas with inadequate infrastructure, poorly constructed environments, and limited resources to cope with climate change impacts.

To effectively address these issues, development plans and zoning policies, particularly in urban settings, should prioritise initiatives such as expanding green spaces and enhancing structural resilience.

Safeguarding LGBTQ Communities Amid Climate Risks 

Policies should also focus on “mitigating discriminatory housing and urban development practices, making shelters safe spaces for LGBT people, and ensuring that relief aid reaches displaced LGBTQ individuals and families”.

Key findings in the UCLA study indicated that for each 1 percentage point rise in the concentration of same-sex couples per county, there is a corresponding 17.17 percentile increase in the NASA composite risk score.

This score evaluates meteorological alterations like extreme temperatures, excessive rainfall, and drought conditions.

The study also revealed that a 1 percentage point increase in the prevalence of same-sex couples per county correlated with a 6.13 percentile increase in the FEMA risk projection score.

This score assesses the likelihood of natural hazards and disasters such as floods, tornadoes, wildfires, hailstorms, and lightning strikes.

The researchers’ decision to focus on same-sex couples was due to the limitation of data collection by the U.S. Census. The US Census primarily gathers information on cohabiting same-sex households rather than collecting broader data on sexual orientation or gender identity.

“This study helps to shine a light on what is likely a much larger and more complicated picture. Our findings probably understate the true impact that climate change is having on LGBT.  people”, he told KQED.

The researchers recommended that state and federal surveys, such as the U.S. Census Should incorporate “measures of sexual orientation and gender identity” to expand the breadth and depth of information accessible on LGBTQ individuals.

This inclusion would facilitate comprehensive assessments of climate risk within these communities.

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