As I write this, it is a beautiful sunny summer day in Philadelphia. It is in the mid-80s, the temperature it should be at this time of year in the Mid-Atlantic. But the city is also under an air-quality alert. Smoke from the fires out West have created an eerie haze in the city, most notable at sunset, when the sky turns an unnatural orange. It makes for a spectacular, yet apocalyptic sky.
Philadelphia is in one of the nation’s most temperate zones. Yet a recent analysis of 51 years of weather data shows summers are getting hotter in Philadelphia. The average temperature for the city in the summer of 1970 was 75.09 degrees, while last year’s summer average was 78.39.
The average summer temperature in Philadelphia has gotten 3 degrees warmer, with average summer nights warming by nearly four degrees. This rising heat especially affects economically stressed areas of the city with mostly Black and Latinx residents. In those neighborhoods, like South, Southwest and North Philly, there are more heat-absorbing hard surfaces and fewer trees to offer residents shade. The resultant “heat island” effect holds the heat in at night and allows for little temperature moderation during a heat wave.
These average temperatures are deceptive. Heat waves — three or more days with temperatures 90 or above — are more frequent. And nine of the past 10 years in the city have been the hottest on record.
June was the hottest month on record across the U.S. In the Pacific Northwest a heatwave killed hundreds of people in Oregon and Washington. Over a billion sea creatures like mussels and crabs boiled alive in their shells off the coast as the waters heated abnormally.
Eight states have extreme drought conditions with two — Utah and California — in danger of running out of water in large areas. There are wildfires burning in 11 states and one in Oregon threatens the electrical grid that feeds northern California.
Fire season (that there is such a thing at all is indicative of a climate crisis) is starting earlier and lasting longer in the West and Southwest. Fires in the Pine Barrens and other areas of New Jersey are increasingly frequent. Other parts of the country, especially the South and Midwest, face flooding from relentless storms.
Northeast Philadelphia got 10 inches of rain in two hours a week ago, wrecking homes and cars and displacing hundreds of people with no flood insurance.
New York City subways have been flooding during torrential thunderstorms, and the material used to keep out the nearby waters surrounding the island of Manhattan and other boroughs melted from the extreme heat. Former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner Al Gore warned of sea level rise in cities like New York, Miami and San Francisco more than two decades ago.
Philadelphia used to be a city of bearable summers and not-too-terrible winters. Now Philadelphia is regularly under extreme weather alerts from tornado warnings to ice storms. But the worst thing is the heat. As a weather phenomenon, heat kills more people in the U.S. than any other weather event.
As the poorest big city in America with nearly a third of residents living at or below the poverty level, environmental inequality is an ever-more concerning issue for Philadelphians. As is environmental racism in a city that is more than two-thirds people of color.
LGBTQ people are at the intersection of these encroaching and escalating climate emergencies. Our communities, friends and chosen families are particularly vulnerable as rapid changes in climate lead to more natural disasters, environmental instability, and — as we’ve discovered during the pandemic — scarcity.
The Sierra Club states that climate justice is a term used to frame climate change (now climate crisis) as an ethical and political issue rather than just an environmental issue. Climate justice clarifies that climate change can have different social, economic, public health and other adverse impacts on marginalized communities, like Black, Latinx, Indigenous and LGBTQ people.
Climate justice is predicated on the concept and ideal that we all deserve a planet where we can live safely. Many people in Philadelphia cannot live safely in the kind of weather extremes that are now impacting us each year. As I have reported over the past few years for PGN, poverty is an increasingly fraught issue for the LGBTQ community, particularly LGBTQ people of color, trans people and lesbians.
LGBTQ communities, especially poor and working poor queer and trans people, are on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Young queer and trans people and LGBTQ elders simply don’t have the resources or ability to leave climate-impacted areas. And homelessness is already a huge problem among LGBTQ youth and seniors, as I have previously reported for PGN.
There are many LGBTQ activists working on climate justice issues. Jamie Margolin, an out lesbian, co-founded the international youth climate justice coalition Zero Hour at 16 and organized the group’s first youth climate march on July 21, 2018.
Adwoa Addae, 21, an Black trans immigrant from Jamaica who previously served as the accountability co-coordinator of SustainUS and has worked with the Sunrise Movement, has spoken about how trans and queer people are extremely vulnerable to climate change “because of displacement resulting from societal persecution and discrimination.”
They note that when climate disasters strike, trans and queer people are disproportionately impacted as these are people who “often lack stable shelter and don’t receive support from social and emergency recovery services and efforts.”
Aletta Brady, 29, is also working for climate justice as founder and executive director of Our Climate Voices and a member of the U.S. National Commission for UNESCO Youth Working Group.
Eryn Wise, 31, of the Jicarilla Apache and Laguna Pueblo tribes, has been working in New Mexico to create supportive spaces for LGBTQ Indigenous youth, “who often live in the margins of climate justice,” she said, as a result of being heavily marginalized and displaced.
This is the reality in which we are all living, whether we choose to acknowledge it or not. Whether we are Gen Z, Millennials, Gen X or Boomers, we are all facing a world — and a city and a home — in which the climate crisis isn’t just some future event, but a daily consideration. The GOP is fighting President Biden’s version of the Green New Deal, but climate denialism won’t change climate reality.
Climate crisis is a major issue for LGBTQ people. There is an intersection of inequity and climate emergency that impacts our community radically, which means our queer and trans social justice movement must incorporate environmentalism right now, today. And we must do so because our very lives are on the line.