The global effects of climate changes are being seen more often. The climate change movement has a constant theme: everyone will be affected.
There is also historical evidence that shows the negative effects of climate change will be felt in a disproportionate way. Climate change is directly linked to wealth, home, and racial identities. This should not be surprising. People who are poor and without power have always been negatively affected by environmental crises.
Robert Bullard, an American scientist, found that Houston’s Black community was suffering from high levels of pollution in 1979. Christopher Tessume and colleagues also found similar results in a 2019 study. al, concluded that Black Americans are exposed to 50 percent more air pollution than they cause, whereas White Americans breathe in 17 percent less air pollution than they produce — adding a harrowing dimension to George Floyd’s words, “I can’t breathe.”
We are seeing the impact of extreme weather on communities in America that isdisproportionately affecting people of color. The devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina showed the stark difference in the suffering of Black and low-income communities compared to those from more wealthy groups. Closer to home the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, in reviewing the Flint water crisis, found that “Race, racialization, racism (particularly spatial), and de facto discrimination are the heart and soul of this crisis.”
We know there is more to climate change than just being exposed to extreme weather and pollution. Research continues to show that climate change is actually causing more extreme weather-related phenomena. This means that vulnerable communities are more exposed to extreme weather and pollution.
It’s hard to see how the impact of the climate crisis will differ for communities of color or those with less wealth and power without intentional and inclusive policy changes at the national, state, and local levels.
Globally, all the same issues are present. The United States and European nations have historically emitted most carbon. However, those in developing countries are most at risk of the negative effects of these emissions.
This reality of disproportionate consequences gives rise to the central tenet of the climate justice movement — those who are least responsible for contributing to the climate crisis are the ones who suffer the most. Droughts in Africa, the Middle East and California are more devastating than those in California and the Pacific Northwest. Flooding in Bangladesh is worse for this population than it is for those in Germany. And rising sea levels all around the globe will make it worse.
It is likely to cause more severe and lasting damage in Haiti than it does in Italy.
The climate crisis is caused by the unsustainable exploitation natural resources. This has largely been driven largely by the exploitation and racism of people of color through colonialism, empire, and other forms. A sustainable solution to the climate crisis will not be possible if race equity is not addressed.
The emerging green economy has the potential to address these inequalities and protect our future. To make this happen, however, it is crucial that those who have been historically excluded from the climate crisis conversation are included and empowered. It is crucial that community leaders build trust and invest in at-risk communities, as well as co-create solutions.
As a society, it is our responsibility to move beyond individual impacts to collective change. Without racial equity, climate justice isn’t possible, and without climate justice, racial inequities will continue to perpetuate systems of oppression and harm.
If you are interested in being part of developing local solutions, the Holland chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby and the Holland Climate Collaborative are always looking to include more residents in our work. Both can be found at Facebook and other social media sites.
— Nate Roggenbaum is a resident of Holland and a member of the Holland Area Citizens’ Climate Lobby.