The Impact of Climate Change on Racial Minorities
With climate-related disasters and temperatures on the rise, addressing the climate crisis has never been more pressing. The United States broke heat records this summer, reaching temperatures last seen during the Dust Bowl. As the government examines how to fight climate change, it is imperative that they acknowledge the disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations. The EPA recently released a report addressing just that, “Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the United States,” which outlined how climate-driven increases in temperature would disproportionately impact racial minorities.
Here is a sample of the disproportionate impacts if the planet were to warm by 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius):
Black people are 40% more likely to live in locations where extreme temperatures would lead to higher mortality rates.
Black people are 41%-59% more likely to die due to poor air quality.
Black children (17 and under) are 34% more likely to live in areas that an asthma diagnoses would be worsened by climate change.
Alaska Natives and American Indians are 48% more likely to be inundated with flooding.
Latinos are 43% more likely to lose work hours due to intense heat in their communities.
For reference, the world has warmed by 1.1 degrees Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. The report estimates that the world is “on track” to warm by 1.5+ degrees Celsius by the earlier part of the 2030s.
“I don’t think that we can achieve environmental progress if we’re not combating racism, if we’re not combating systemic oppression of people, in our vision.” - Tykee James, Government Affairs Coordinator for National Audubon Society
While the EPA report is new, the findings are not surprising, as systemic racism is entwined with how low-income and racial minority communities were planned from the start. Systemic racism has been an integral part of how and where pollution sources are placed in communities - with Black people being almost 4x as likely than white people to die from pollution exposure. According to a study by the Clean Air Task Force, Black Americans are exposed to 38% more polluted air than white people, and are 75% more likely to live in a community that borders a factory or plant.
People of color are less likely to have access to necessary parks and green spaces and are more likely to live in an urban area with higher temperatures (known as a “heat island”). This combination of high temperatures with few green spaces can lead to negative health impacts, including stress, respiratory issues, and heat exhaustion. In addition to all of this, low-income communities are also more likely to experience flooding and its potentially disastrous impacts.
“So many communities that are heavily Black and African American find themselves in the way of some of the worst impacts of climate change,” he said, “as was the case with Katrina and, we may find, turns out to be the case with Ida.” - Joe Goffman, acting head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation
It is imperative that the government centers environmental justice and racial equality as they are implementing climate-related legislation and protections. At the start of his presidency, President Biden issued an executive order aimed at addressing historic pollution burdens placed on minority communities. He also vowed to focus clean energy investments on these communities. Unfortunately, Congress has not enacted Biden’s legislative proposals, leaving investments in these areas at a standstill. As with most issues racial minorities in the United States face, our government is failing to do enough to protect our most vulnerable populations.
Get to the point: With climate-related disasters and temperatures on the rise, addressing the climate crisis has never been more pressing. A recent report by the EPA found that Black people would be disproportionately impacted by climate change in several ways, such as being 40% more likely to live in locations where extreme temperatures would lead to a higher mortality rate. These statistics are not surprising, as systemic racism is prevalent in how Black communities were planned from the start. As policymakers work on addressing climate change, it is imperative that they center environmental justice and racial equality in legislation.
· The Hill