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Climate change and social justice

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An upcoming program of the Friends and Foundation of the Rochester Public Library will focus on the local opportunities and challenges posed by climate change. Follow the Money: Costs and Opportunities from Climate Change will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, November 2, at the Central Library's Kate Gleason Auditorium, 115 South Avenue.

The program will start with a screening of the locally produced climate change documentary, "Comfort Zone." A question-and-answer panel discussion with Harbec Plastics President Bob Bechtold; Rochester Institute of Technology senior sustainability advisor Enid Cardinal; state Senator Ted O'Brien; and Dr. Colleen Fogarty, a physician at Brown Square Community Health Center, follows the screening.

The program is timely. Last month, in a long-awaited report, the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that without aggressive reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, the planet will see harsher effects from climate change.

Some of the issues that the panel will discuss, such as the importance of environmentally sustainable business, have received attention. But the panel will also touch on climate change's health and social justice implications, which though critical, haven't been at the forefront.

As an example, Fogarty cites the potential for more extremely hot days, which pose hazards for people with asthma and other serious respiratory conditions. And climate researchers project that in coming years, Rochester will likely experience more frequent, higher intensity heat waves.

On extremely hot days, people with serious respiratory conditions are supposed to remain in places with air conditioning. But lower-income residents may not be able to afford air conditioning, and may seek refuge in public buildings such as libraries and recreation centers.

State officials have made some effort to address the problem, Fogarty says. One state agency will pay for low-income individuals to buy air conditioners and to have them installed, she says, if there is a medical need.

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