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May book of the month: Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation

Updated: May 2

The May book of the month for May is Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation by Danielle Arigoni. (Island Press, 2023). Danielle Arigoni is Managing Director for Policy and Solutions at National Housing Trust. She previously served as Director of AARP's Livable Communities program, and she holds a masters degree in City and Regional Planning. Find a copy of the book here.

Recently, I received the shocking news that an acquaintance of mine was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia and admitted to the hospital for a month to undergo chemotherapy. Within just a few days her best friend pulled together an email list of more than 40 people (including me) who are willing to support the family (husband and two teenage children) by bringing them meals, running errands, and whatever else they need to help them get through what will surely be a rough time. Sometimes life comes at you fast, and in a time of crisis, it’s the people around you who matter the most. 

One of the central messages of Danielle Arigoni’s new book, Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation, is that the safety nets and social structures for older adults are patchy at best and sometimes missing altogether. This is especially true as we experience a changing climate that brings with it more floods, more wildfires, more extreme temperatures, and less predictability overall. 


Aging is a deeply personal experience - and yet it is generally poorly understood by state and local leaders, emergency management practitioners, policymakers, and others who are charged with ensuring safe and resilient communities for an increasingly large share of older adults (p.2).


Arigoni lays out the various reasons older adults are disproportionately affected by climate change. Examples include susceptibility to heat waves, financial vulnerability from living on a fixed income, difficulty evacuating during an emergency, cognitive barriers, lack of access to information online, and so forth. The intersection of race, poverty, and language access compounds the impacts of climate change on older adults.

Unfortunately, the steadfast American tradition of offering individual solutions for systemic problems leaves out entire swaths of people who do not have the resources to withstand a crisis. Most of those individual solutions depend on personal wealth, land ownership, and social and political capital.

Additionally, there is widespread misunderstanding about who, exactly, older adults are and where they live. Only a small percentage of older adults live in nursing homes or congregant facilities, while the vast majority live independently in their own homes and apartments. (That said, the fastest growing segment of the unhoused population in the United States is older adults and senior citizens with no history of homelessness, which is evidence of just how bleak the housing crisis has become, but I digress.) 

Agrioni points out many times that local governments, emergency management organizations, state and federal agencies, and so forth make little or no mention of older adults or senior citizens when they account for other vulnerable population groups in climate resilience and disaster plans. The consequence of our collective failure to plan for the needs of an aging population is that older adults are the majority of deaths during disasters; for example, 70% of deaths during Hurricane Katrina were older adults, despite them making up only 15% of the population. Notably, FEMA and AARP seek to address this gap with the Disaster Tool Kit they co-published in 2022. 


The long-term physical, emotional, mental, and financial stress of disasters has not yet been fully integrated into most disaster planning efforts, including those in New Orleans (p. 157).


Danielle Arigoni, who is an urban planner by training, writes for an audience of planners and policymakers. Climate Resilience for an Aging Nation is a valuable resource for social service, public health and healthcare professionals as well. Agrioni’s overall point is that professionals across many sectors and agencies need to do a better job integrating the specific needs of older adults in climate resilience and disaster planning. 

Arigoni’s research is thorough. She includes extensive examples, resources, and notes. Gender is only mentioned a few times, however, and I would have liked to see her address that issue. Women, and especially older women, have been excluded from studies (especially medical research), or not considered as a distinct category, yet it is common knowledge that impacts and outcomes differ greatly along gender lines as people age. This is an opportunity for future research. 

As for my friend, her current medical crisis is unrelated to climate change, but it still has me thinking about the support systems in place for her and her family, which will undoubtedly be essential for them in the weeks and months ahead. Those of us on the email list are pitching in because we care about this family and don’t want them to go through such a difficult time alone. As it happens, most if not all of us are also middle class people who can spare the time and resources to help out. This notion of community care should be inclusive and universal. It should be at the core of climate and disaster planning. It should not come down to individual luck. 


Susan Gaeddert is Community Programs Director at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, where she runs Active Wisconsin, facilitates the Community Transportation Academy, and coordinates the Wisconsin Climate Table. Have you read any good books lately? Send your recommendations to: 

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