Updated: Aug 4, 2022
Think for a moment how your life will be impacted by the climate crisis in the coming decades. How will you have to adapt in order to live as comfortable a life as possible? Will you need to take up bike riding and cut your meat consumption, or are you sufficiently well-off that your life won’t change by much? Adapting will take different forms depending on who we are and where we come from; depending on the ways in which our privileges intersect.
“The burdens of pollution, toxic waste, and poisoned resources are not equally distributed in society,” wrote the Princeton Student Climate Initiative. People of color are far more likely to live in areas with higher pollution as diverse low-income neighborhoods are deemed less valuable than predominantly white wealthy neighborhoods and diverse communities become the perfect places for industrial plants and factories that pollute local water and air. This is a perpetuation of the new Jim Crow in the age of “colorblindness” and the result is that more than half of those living near hazardous waste are POC. Our communities are less likely to receive aid after natural disasters, Black Americans have a greater risk of developing cancer due to poor air quality, and ocean acidification is harming coastal Indigenous tribes whose economies and diets are dependent on seafood.
This is known as environmental racism. The climate crisis is usually regarded as some great equalizer that will affect everyone no matter what their color is or how much money they have. And while this is true to some extent, it lacks the nuance that the crisis won’t affect us all equally.
The Washington Post writes that the effects of global temperatures rising 2 degrees Celsius will leave “Indigenous people 48 percent more likely than other groups to live in areas overwhelmed by flooding from sea-level rise, Latinos 43 percent more likely to live in communities that will lose work hours because of intense heat, and Black people 40% more likely to live in areas with higher mortality rates due to extreme temperatures.” The privilege of adaptability is not awarded to low-income communities of color.
In order to oppose the climate crisis, we must also oppose systemic racism and vice versa. Impacts of red lining—the discriminatory process in which Black Americans have been denied housing in certain neighborhoods to perpetuate segregation—as well as poverty have left communities of color at a disadvantage and more vulnerable to exploitation. These systemic issues, that we have supposedly outlawed, will continue to harm people of color in the coming decades. And looking beyond domestic harms, beyond how we ourselves will be affected by the crisis (as we often think to first), developing nations will face extremely disproportionate impacts of climate change and are already beginning to face them. Famines and extreme whether have become more serious, pushing people into poverty and leading to greater mortality rates.
As explained by Livescience, farmers across China's Gansu Province, one of the country's driest regions, are already struggling to cope with the effects of climate change, as droughts and arid land contribute to the region's vast poverty. Time writes how Lagos, Nigeria is at “extreme risk” on the Maplecroft’s Climate Change Vulnerability Index. Its population grows rapidly and it is a major economic engine in Nigeria which would easily be threatened. The city is especially vulnerable as it’s located on the Gulf of Guinea. As sea levels rise, it’s likely to cause coastal erosion and contaminate potable water.
Climate change is likely to push millions further into poverty, limit opportunities to escape from it, and limit the opportunities for sustainable development. This creates a positive feedback loop that ends in the perpetuation of poverty and normalization of death from preventable causes. We have the ability to act, let us do it with those most impacted in mind.