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Climate Change Adaptation: Social Justice and People with Disabilities
Climate Change Adaptation:
Social Justice and People with Disabilities

How are we including persons with disabilities and other vulnerable communities in our climate activism and adaptation planning?

Scientists and experts worldwide are recognizing that climate change is becoming an unstoppable force: regardless of our efforts to cut emissions, the earth will continue to warm – and likely faster than most people expect. As we move forward, then, we must to go beyond cutting out fossil fuels to also prepare for, and adapt to, the coming reality. Climate adaptation will mean everything from improving disaster readiness and response, to more wisely managing water resources, all the way to helping communities move away from flooding shorelines and expanding deserts. It is also a matter of climate justice that we focus on those communities most vulnerable to climate change – including vulnerability from existing social structures – and with the least ability to adapt on their own. Historically marginalized and oppressed groups should absolutely be supported in our transition to this transforming world. In this Climate Compassion Salon, we will explore the importance of adapting to climate change – and how we can do so in a way that supports climate justice worldwide.

The 2nd half of this Salon will look at the experience of people with disabilities (PWDs) during these coming changes, and how PWDs can be included in global climate justice efforts. People with disabilities are arguably the most vulnerable group to the effects of climate change, and have the least capacity to adapt – yet they are virtually ignored in discussion and planning about preparation. For example, PWDs’ health issues make it harder to survive heat waves, inaccessible evacuation and shelter affect PWDs’ safety during storms, any harm to government services compromises quality of life and survival, and PWDs might be left behind entirely as people migrate to escape the effects of climate change. We will explore these experiences and how our communities can work with people with disabilities, inside our own groups and beyond, to ensure that climate justice reaches PWDs and protects their well-being.


Alex Ghenis is a Policy & Research Specialist at the World Institute on Disability (WID) in Berkeley, CA, a nonprofit dedicated to expanding the horizons of people with disabilities worldwide. He focuses on the two major issues of 1) economic empowerment for people with disabilities, and 2) how to ensure PWDs’ well-being as climate change moves forward.


Alex’s climate change work began in 2014 with his “New Earth Disability” blog, which has pursued research and analysis on how PWDs will be affected by the global transformations of warming and resource shortages. Over the past two years he has collected several dozen resources and written widely on general climate adaptation strategies, heat waves and climate-related migration. WID’s ongoing Climate & Disability Initiatives include developing an information center for all things related to climate change and disability, ongoing research about those connections, and efforts to engage other stakeholders in disability-related climate justice. Alex is also raising awareness through other organizations, including a focus on people with disabilities in the International Organization on Migration’s environmental migration policy paper series

In addition to his climate change research & policy efforts, Alex has worked extensively on WID’s asset-building initiatives including as a significant author of the EQUITY book: “EQUITY: Asset-Building Strategies for People with Disabilities,” which is available for free at Alex passionately believes that personal economic resilience is a vital component of climate resilience - and views economic justice as a major piece of climate justice that must be pursued with that very goal in mind.

Elizabeth Ferguson, Ph.D.

Elizabeth is a facilitator and educator in the practices of resilience and wellbeing. Combining the wisdom of psychology, contemplative science, internal arts and neuroscience, she offers an approach to climate activism that weaves self-compassion, social justice, and community building. 

Jeremy Lent, Liology Institute

Jeremy is author of the The Patterning Instinct: A Cultural History of Humanity's Search for Meaning (Prometheus Books, May 2017). He blogs at Patterns of Meaning. He is founder and president of the Liology Institute, dedicated to fostering a worldview that could enable humanity to flourish sustainably on the earth. 

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