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A Project of the World Institute on Disability

Based in Berkeley, CA, the World Institute on Disability (WID) is a nonprofit that works to fully integrate people with disabilities into the communities around them in a variety of different ways. To learn more about our programs and partnerships, visit

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Welcome to New Earth Disability!

Welcome to the New Earth Disability newsletter, presented by the World Institute on Disability! WID’s groundbreaking NED initiative ( has been developed to understand the experience of people with disabilities during climate change. NED began in 2014 as a blog by Alex Ghenis, who joined WID’s team in early 2015. Today we are still publishing research on this important subject, educating the public and partners through seminars and more, and providing input on adaptation efforts across the country. And now, we are starting a regular newsletter! The new Earth Disability newsletter covers the connection between climate change and disability, providing timely articles and many opportunities for others to transform the world. Please join us as a member of the listserv: to sign up just click [this link]. And please spread the word!

What is NED?
An Exploration of Climate Change and Disability

WID’s groundbreaking New Earth Disability (NED) initiative aims to understand the connections between climate change and disability and address them head-on. This is an incredibly important connection: climate change is arguably the largest challenge our world has ever faced, and people with disabilities are especially vulnerable to its many effects. We use research and partnerships to identify concerns and the best responses, then educate the public and work with other stakeholders to ensure that climate adaptation recognizes our community. For an introduction to the project and the connection between climate change and disability, please read the full post at the bottom of this newsletter.

NED's Focus Areas

Learn More


We have started researching many of the topics connected to climate change and disability, and more research is on the way. You can visit the following pages of our website to learn more:
If you want to join these efforts in research, education and policy, please email Alex Ghenis at or Marsha Saxton at Thank you for joining the NED newsletter, and for caring about climate change and disability!


Other Climate Change Resources:

There is a large amount of information on climate change available on the Internet. If you would like to learn more about climate change or keep up-to-date on climate-related stories, head over to these websites.
  • Global Warming Science: this overview page from the Union of Concerned Scientists gives quick info on the basics of climate change issues – and then has links to even more details. This is a great place to learn the basics.
  • Daily Climate: Daily Climate is a daily collection of links to climate change-related news and publications worldwide. This website covers everything from politics, to research, to on-the-ground impacts, all the way to adaptation and solutions to help humanity forward. Browse the site and keep up-to-date!
  • Climate change 101 with Bill Nye: Bill Nye the Science Guy provides an easy-to-understand, 4-minute video explaining the basics of climate change. A second video more information is available here
  • TED Talks on climate change: TED Talks are great short presentations (under 30 minutes and often much shorter) that give a powerful rundown of some issues happening around the world. There have been over 70 TED Talks climate change the past several years. Click the link to see them all!

In The News

An Introduction to New Earth Disability

People with disabilities are especially vulnerable to a wide range of social and economic issues. We face disproportionately high levels of poverty, rely on fragile government services, and have important needs when it comes to health care and personal support. Activists, politicians and the media have covered many of the ways that we are vulnerable to budget cuts, healthcare problems, and economic turmoil. But one issue has been virtually ignored: climate change. However, this connection is one of the largest issues facing our community – and it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.

Climate change is leading to a host of problems including stronger storms, hotter heat waves, deeper droughts, rising oceans and more. People with disabilities are especially affected by these changes, now and into the future. Among other things we are more vulnerable during extreme weather; we have fewer resources to manage food insecurity and other climate-related economic problems; and we face great difficulties finding accessible housing and keeping our healthcare if we are displaced by rising oceans or expanding deserts. While this may seem like a dire situation, there are actions we can take to protect millions worldwide. We just have to start now.


Why Climate Change?

Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time. Ever since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800s, people and industries have been burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas to power cars, factories, power plants and more. Those burning fuels release greenhouse gases – especially carbon dioxide (CO2) – into the atmosphere, and CO2 levels have jumped all the way from 270 parts per million (ppm) in 1870 up to over 400 ppm today. These GHGs have been radically changing the earth’s environment. The average temperature of the earth has increased by more than 1°C (1.8°F) in the past 150 years and it is projected to reach 1.5°C, 2°C or well beyond in the coming decades. In fact, 2016 was the warmest year ever recorded by a wide margin – and at one point reached almost 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. It is a large-scale global transformation.
A graph of "CO2 parts per million" from 450,000 years ago until today. The line zigzags between 180 and 280 ppm up until 1950. After 1950 it goes straight up, to 400 ppm.
This graph shows Carbon dioxide (CO2) concentrations in the atmosphere, which are measured in “parts per million” (ppm). For the past 650,000 years, the atmospheric concentration has never gone above 280 ppm. But since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, it has skyrocketed, and is now over 400 ppm.
Now, 1°C may not seem like a lot, but it has dramatic consequences. Among other things, we are seeing much stronger storms, hotter and longer heat waves, deeper droughts, more forest fires, expanding deserts, rising ocean levels and more. These are affecting countries and peoples around the globe as well: storms are leading to more injuries and deaths, as well as harming economies and people’s well-being. Droughts and floods are destroying crops and leading to widespread hunger and malnutrition. Rising sea levels are flooding coastlines and driving people from their homes. This is even leading to political tensions and conflicts, potentially with some violence now and in the future. Scientists are also anticipating much more intense changes in the coming decades. With migration alone, the International Organization on Migration (IOM) is projecting at least 100 million “climate migrants” by mid-century, with the potential for many more. Climate change won’t just change the weather, it will transform the entire world around us.
An aerial view of Miami Beach: several high-rise buildings with a city in the background
Climate change is raising sea levels because warmer water expands and there are glaciers melting, putting water into the ocean. The city of Miami, which sits near the south tip of Florida, is in danger of being entirely flooded by sea level rise, and is already experiencing some flooding at high tide. Its several hundred thousand residents will have to move if it goes underwater
These global changes endanger every corner of the world – and they need a dramatic response to protect billions of people worldwide. We also cannot prevent climate change entirely by cutting down on our carbon emissions. Some is coming our way no matter what, so it is important to prepare as much as possible, as soon as possible. Whether it’s building stronger storms shelters, improving water management for farms and cities, or providing safe transportation and housing for climate migrants, we must start now.

A Need for Adaptive Climate Justice

Climate change is already affecting some people more than others – and that will continue well into the future. Many news outlets and advocates point to developing countries, people of color, women, and the poor as those on the front lines. People in these and other vulnerable groups also tend to have fewer resources to adapt to climate change’s consequences, leaving them even more exposed at many levels. They even contributed far less to climate change than their privileged counterparts, which means they are especially harmed by something they did little to create. While everybody will be affected by climate change, these different levels create a massive injustice worldwide – and it is a matter of climate justice that we help the most vulnerable to adapt and prepare in the future. The more privileged groups that most contributed to climate change also have a responsibility to provide that help where it is needed. This “adaptive climate justice” should be a cornerstone of our future at every level.

Disability Climate Justice

Climate change is going to have massive consequences for people with disabilities (PWDs) – in fact, it is already making its mark. For example, PWDs are especially vulnerable during extreme weather events. We already saw this during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Super Storm Sandy in 2013. (For a powerful overview of the experience of people with disabilities during Katrina, check out the documentary “Right to be Rescued by Rooted in Rights). Stronger storms are likely to happen much more in the future, so this will continue to be a growing problem moving forward. In addition, extreme heat and heat waves are extremely difficult for many PWDs, as some disabilities affect the body’s ability to regulate its temperature; PWDs are also more likely to live in lower-quality housing with less access to air-conditioning. Climate change will also stress the environment and the economy, which will push the limits of medical, government and other supports for people with disabilities. These problems and more present massive dangers to our community and we must do everything possible to prepare with a focus on disability justice in mind.
An African-American elderly woman in a wheelchair being pushed around speaks to 2 other individuals. The others are sitting cots on the floor of a large stadium. There are dozens of cots laid out in rows in the background, with scattered blankets and many people sitting down and walking around.
People with disabilities encountered many problems during Hurricane Katrina. Here, a woman using a wheelchair talks to other people affected by the storm in the New Orleans Superdome, which was used as an emergency shelter during and after the 2005 storm.
This climate change preparation can’t be done at the individual level – so the disability community must push for even more supports going forward. It will undoubtedly be a large challenge. Among other things, people with disabilities tend to have fewer resources available to manage the dangers of climate change, compared to people without disabilities. Advocates and officials on the front lines of climate change may not even recognize us as a population of concern, leaving our needs unaddressed to a huge extent – and some may simply label us a burden or leave us to last. This lines up with so many other issues of disability rights, including the ones that we have tackled head on. Disability rights advocates have already made great strides for social justice: disability climate justice is yet another frontier for us to address as a community of advocates.

Unfortunately, this connection has hardly been looked at any major level, which also means that little has been done on the ground. The good news is that there is room to do more – and we have an amazing opportunity to build a movement into the future. Now, we can’t do this only by cutting emissions, as many are pushing for. Instead, we must adapt and prepare, keeping people with disabilities in mind. Our actions can include improving disability-focused disaster preparedness, creating accessible cooling shelters, providing access to food and water during droughts, and ensuring that with disabilities can migrate while keeping their health care and personal care supports. It will take research, coordination, advocacy, community and support – but there is a massive opportunity to succeed for people with disabilities worldwide.

The Next Steps

We must tackle disability climate justice at every level, from emergency planning to accessible relocation to reinforcing already-vulnerable social services. This will require work from advocates and stakeholders worldwide, using every tool possible. We must engage disability and climate change efforts using the tools of social justice and disability advocacy – which, luckily, have deep roots in our community. We must also address this issue at both ends: climate change stakeholders must learn about disability issues and the disability community must learn about climate change, including what it means for us. This broad vision will allow us to hit disability climate justice at every level, with allies across the board.
People at all levels can work together in this effort, including:
  • Disability advocates at the broad level, as well as those fighting for specific issues (i.e. disaster preparedness, human rights, healthcare policy, and economic justice). This massive group of advocates care deeply about the well-being of our community – but many are simply not aware of the full scope of climate change, or the consequences it has for people with disabilities. When disability advocates truly understand this important issue, we can come together to push for widespread climate justice for people with disabilities.
  • Climate change and climate justice advocates. These advocates are already fighting to protect the global community from the impacts of climate change, either by reducing emissions or preparing for what’s on the way. Climate justice advocates are also fighting for vulnerable populations – which largely covers the poor, people of color, women, those in developing countries, and other minority groups. When these advocates learn about how important climate justice is for people with disabilities, they are bound to support our work and become our allies.
  • Government officials and policymakers. Climate adaptation requires policy, funding and broad government efforts – and while efforts are building, they largely fail to address disability issues. When those in government learn about the connection between climate change and disability, they are more likely to include us in adaptation policies and initiatives, and provide the resources to keep our community safe.
  • People with disabilities and their networks. Let’s face it: there are plenty of people nationwide with disabilities who may not be aware of climate change, don’t understand what it means for them and/or are not prepared for what might be on the way. It is vital to educate the people with disabilities at all levels, as well as their networks of family, friends, and caregivers. Climate advocates can engage people on the ground level and provide them with the information to prepare and advocate for their needs. This can also build our movement, as more people become engaged going forward.
A picture of people at a climate change rally. A woman is holding a sign that says "to change everything we need everyone"
There are climate change activists around the world fighting for climate justice and more. The disability community can engage other activists to bring our needs on board.
It will require research, collaboration, education, policies, and smart strategy to engage these stakeholders toward disability climate justice. The goal of New Earth Disability is to better understand the connections between climate change and disability, educate the public, engage these stakeholders and develop strategies to protect lives and well-being. We believe that much more needs to be done on this important subject and we are committed to creating groundbreaking research and strategies toward disability climate justice. We are also committed to being a resource to other advocates so that climate justice can expand as widely as possible – for the good of people with disabilities worldwide.

If you want to join these efforts in research, education and policy, please email Alex Ghenis at or Marsha Saxton at To sign up for this listserv or to share it with others, head to this link. Thank you for joining the NED newsletter, and we look forward to sending more issues well into the future. Stay tuned!
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