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The Disproportionate Impacts of the Climate Crisis on Black People

Recently, the news and social media have reignited with fury in response to the ongoing prevalence of racism, police brutality and the murders of innocent black people wherein justice is not being served. I’ve found the news heart-breaking, as I’m sure many of you have too. It’s triggered self-reflection, conversations with my family and friends about racism, and thoughts about what we can all do to aid the black community and stand with them. Recognising this, it felt appropriate to draw attention to the disproportionate impacts the climate crisis has on black people and people of colour. Despite the climate crisis being characterised as a global problem requiring a global response, this approach risks glossing over the substantial, and different, inequalities faced across various nations, cultures, and minorities.

Wealthy countries as the worst emitters:

It’s well recognised by now that the world’s richest countries emit the most greenhouse gases which are fuelling global warming. In fact, the richest half emit 86% of global carbon dioxide emissions, whereas the bottom half emit only 14% and the very poorest only 0.5%. This is problematic, since the countries which are the highest greenhouse gas emitters are generally also the least vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis. The gap between rich and poor can be further broken down by the evidence found in an Oxfam policy paper that the richest 10% of people in the world are responsible for roughly 50% of global emissions. Although richer countries are the least vulnerable to the effects of the climate crisis, people living in poverty within those countries still suffer disproportionately more from the adverse effects of climate change. The IPCC, too, highlighted that people who are ‘socially, economically, culturally, politically, institutionally or otherwise marginalized are especially vulnerable to climate change’. As such, a troubling correlation has emerged between the disproportionate impacts of climate change and socio-economic status.

What effects are disproportionately felt?

While everyone will – at least at some point – feel the harmful effects of the climate crisis, black communities are, even in rich countries, facing environmental racism and injustice in a multitude of ways. Research by Green America states that black and minority communities are more likely to live near toxic facilities, are less likely to receive sufficient protection to prevent disasters and are less likely to get the immediate response that white communities often get when emergencies do arise. It’s important to recognise that the UK is not exempt from such a narrative; air pollution is concentrated in 20% of the poorest neighbourhoods in England and in areas with a greater proportion of black people, even where those communities aren’t the poorest. Not only is air pollution damaging to the environment, but it also has harmful effects on human health. Additionally, the continued decline in urban green spaces will disproportionately affect black communities more, and that black households are less likely to have access to a car than white households. These are just a few examples of the systemic environmental inequalities felt by black people which lead not only to environmental injustice, but environmental racism.

Barriers to participation

Black communities also face greater difficulties in participating in the climate crisis movement, which may include targeting big corporations that pollute, promote veganism or involve the participation in civil disobedience akin to that taken by protest movements like Extinction Rebellion. In fact, Extinction rebellion have already been criticised for assuming a white and middle class privilege for its strategy of willing arrest. Willing arrest means that participants are prepared to be arrested, and possibly go to prison, as a result of their civil disobedience actions – a concept which inherently excludes black people who can’t voluntarily assume such a risk. A fear of violence or hostility from the police prevents many black campaigners from participating. This ultimately means that those who are most impacted by the climate crisis are also unable to feel safe when exercising their rights to protest and assembly.

The fact remains that systemic racial inequality persists across the policy spectrum and is even embedded in global issues like the climate crisis. Recognising this is important to effectively progress the climate crisis movement so that it benefits everyone, while also supporting Black Lives Matter and black communities. Continuing the conversation is one of the most important things we, as allies, can do. If anyone is interested to know what they can do, some links will be below, although these are limited and there are many, many more resources and options out there.

To sign a petition: Justice for Belly Mujinga, Justice for George Floyd

To donate if you can: Black Lives Matter, Resourcing Racial Justice (UK),NAACP Legal Defense Fund

To educate yourself: “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, “So you want to talk about race” by Ijeoma Oluo, “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X.Kendi

By Charlotte Beardwell

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