What Do Systemic Racism & Climate Change Have in Common?

For some people, climate change seems like a distant threat. Images of melting ice caps, burning forests, and shelterless animals may come to mind, and while these issues are important, most people find them to be far-fetched and non-urgent. However, what many people fail to realize is that climate change is an issue that affects all of us, some more than others. Climate Injustice is the disproportionate distribution of damage that’s related to climate change. That may seem complicated and abstract, yet for people suffering from chronic illness due to toxic factories being constructed near their homes, for example, these fears are a daily reality. Here is a beginner’s guide to understanding climate injustice, and what you can do to help. 

The Basics

First, let’s talk about the main cause of pollution, where that pollution predominantly exists and who is affected by it and why. A large portion of the industrial pollution that contributes to the climate crisis can be traced back to toxic waste facilities, chemical plants, and coal fired power plants. These types of facilities can commonly be found in or near low-income communities that mainly consist of Black people and people of color.

It is no coincidence that, in most cases, these communities are the same neighborhoods that experienced racist redlining in the 1930s. The practice of redlining restricted home lending to residents living in areas highly populated by Black people and people of color, consequentially restricting their access to home equity and the ability to build generational wealth.  

Studies show that over 100 neighborhoods that experienced historical redlining are on average 5 degrees hotter than non-redlined districts. The temperature difference is a direct result of the pollution and environmental stressors that these communities deal with. As a result, Black and Latino communities are at risk, with increased exposure to toxic chemicals such as arsenic, coal, nitrogen dioxide, and lead, amongst other chemicals. These chemicals find their way into our food, air, water, and lungs, leaving these communities plagued with chronic illnesses, cancers, birth defects, and shorter lifespans as a result. 

An additional side effect of redlining is the history of blocking funding and investment in urban planning in historically redlined districts. Greenspace is also widely inaccessible to Black and Latino communities- affecting their mental and physical health and well-being.

How You Can Help

Now that you’ve learned a little more about how Black people and people of color bear a greater burden when it comes to the effects of climate change in the U.S., it is time to continue to learn and help. Here’s what you can do:

Acknowledging that this issue is prevalent and pressing is the first step to helping these communities. Just by reading this article, you are beginning to take responsibility for educating yourself on this topic. Consider committing a set amount of dollars or time each month to holding yourself accountable to learn more or empower organizations that aid these communities. Always remember that big change starts small, and although achieving climate justice will require a major societal shift, any amount of time or effort will make an impact toward positive change. 

Special thanks to Anisa Johnson and Anna Davis for their contribution to this article.