OPINION: Climate change policies hurt the low-income


Jackson Futch

In January, the Boone Town Council created the new role of sustainability and special projects manager. The purpose of this new position is to oversee the newly prioritized goal of becoming carbon free by 2050. To achieve such a lofty goal, the city has committed to switching government owned vehicles to hybrid or electric and shifting to solar and hydroelectric power providers. 

Watauga County was the 13th highest county in North Carolina for visitor spending. Many visit Boone for its natural wonders. The environment drives the economic force here. It just makes sense that the community should do its part in helping the earth. But climate changes can impact the people just as much as the environment. The cost and hardships created by it fall disproportionately on the shoulders of the lower economic classes. Many of the locals and students are a part of this social category. 

Boone’s actions to face the man-made climate crisis are commendable. These plans are going to curb the environmental footprint of the community and relieve some of the harsher effects climate change has on low-income Americans. Generally, climate change affects low-income communities across the country, including those in Appalachia and Western North Carolina regions. Climate change-induced food shortages are driving up prices and increasing the amount lower class families and students will need to allocate to nutrition. The public health ramifications and more extreme weather is hurting Americans without property or health insurance, a group tending to be some of the poorest in the country and a group, which many students at App State fall into

Luckily, the Appalachians are not being hit by climate change as hard as other regions. The increased altitude and foliage help to reduce major temperature jumps like ones happening around the country. However, the protection the mountains offer doesn’t disqualify the region from being hit by the man-made climate disaster or the poorest residents and students from being hurt. 

First, it is important to understand that effects of climate change will hit the people of Appalachia hard because of the increased poverty in the area. The rural Appalachian poverty rate is at 22%, six points higher than the rest of rural America at 16%, and 11 points higher than the national rate of 11%. Watauga alone has a poverty rate of 21%, far above the state’s average of 14%. Many of these stats for the county can be linked to the higher concentration of college students in the community, a group getting hammered by the economic changes in the area.

 In addition to the hardship on Appalachian industry, the loss of habitable areas across the state will drive more and more people to the Appalachians. The elevated land will mean the area will be one of the last to be ruined by the changes. The influx of newcomers will accelerate the already high rates of gentrification in areas like Boone and skyrocket housing prices out of locals’ price options. These kinds of housing market spikes tend to ruin the market for younger, college-aged Americans. This could act as a mini-market disaster similar to Los Angeles in the 1970s

The policies being adopted by the Boone City Council are good. Any action aimed to stop the climate crisis is good, but certain policies can have a negative impact on the low-income residents of the area. Take for instance the solar panels the town would be using from Blue Ridge Electric. Solar is going to be better than coal for the environment, but sometimes it can be worse for the Appalachian laborer. The majority of solar panels are made by China, which would move 140,000 fossil fuel-related jobs in Appalachia overseas to China.

 There is a fairly simple fix to this employment issue: switch to community-owned local operations. Locally owned energy infrastructure is exemplified through the other green power option chosen by Boone, New River Light and Power, which generated power through using dams. Hydroelectric is an industry that has helped produce American jobs since FDR’s New Deal

Climate change and class have a very complex relationship. The low-income, especially in Appalachia, tend to shoulder the brunt of both climate change and the policies designed to fix it. There are ways around this and to even use green programs to help the low-income. We can make job programs focused on rebuilding America with green infrastructures, such as dams. We can make more carbon-conscious public transportation to help low-income individuals get to work.

 Students and the younger generation are most conscious of the current climate disaster because it affects them the most. But a problem as massive as this can turn into an upper class issue because the low-income have to worry about just meeting basic needs of life, leaving their voices not being heard. We need to make sure when we think about solutions and effects surrounding climate change, we think of those it hurts the most and try to save them first.