Climate Change Adaptation as a Problem of Inequality and Possible Legal Reforms

David A. Dana | August 28, 2022

Climate change will necessitate adaptation in all parts of the United States, but some individuals and localities will be better able to adapt than others. Wealth inequalities among individuals and localities already are translating—and will continue to translate—into inequalities between the rich and poor in their capacity to adapt. Current federal disaster aid programs and policies exacerbate these inequalities by favoring the wealthy, and future government resource management decisions and investments also may broaden the gap between rich and poor in terms of the economic and other costs they will bear from climate change. Some have suggested broadening Takings Clause liability as a means to address the problem of inequality and climate change adaptation. However, these suggested doctrinal reforms, if anything, would skew government actors to provide even greater protection to wealthy communities and even less to low-income ones. Broadening the public trust doctrine could help address some of the inequality problems associated with climate change, but the most important reforms needed involve the integration of equality analysis and equality concerns into all levels of administrative decision-making. And those reforms, in turn, will require a climate-aware, equality-focused, and politically effective electorate.