By Dalila Da Silva Lopes
The intersection of climate change and social justice is not random, it is a direct result of decades of socio-economic inequities, systems of oppression, and systemic racism.
The impact of climate change is being felt on a global level, Black, Brown, Indigenous and other marginalized communities are disproportionately bearing the brunt and paying the price for the world’s irresponsibilities. Climate change has become one of the most fundamental challenges faced by our generation. Extreme weather conditions such as rising sea levels, deforestation, droughts and more have severe consequences and will continue radically changing the living conditions of millions of people around the world.
Environmental health is life or death. The American Lung Association reported that the African American community is at greater risk of premature death than those who live in predominantly white neighborhoods.
Discriminatory policies such as redlining have worked to segregate African Americans into unhealthy neighborhoods, more commonly known as ghettos. Studies show that people of color are more likely to live near polluters and breathe polluted air. African Americans are 75% more likely than others to live near facilities that produce hazardous waste, The New York Times reported.
Refineries, power plants, dumps and other industrial facilities are often located in Black and Brown neighborhoods resulting in a disproportionate number of minorities who experience poor health outcomes. For example, air pollution is linked to lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and premature death.
Disenfranchised families have historically had to live in polluted environments. According to The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, these corrosive living conditions have led to Back children becoming six times more likely to die from asthma than white or Hispanic children.
Environmental racism cannot be completely understood without acknowledging the racist systemic structures that have allowed for inequalities to prevail in the United States and on a global level.
Climate change will only accentuate the existing socio-economic stresses that have been unjustly placed on black and brown communities around the world, who disproportionately struggle with poverty, food insecurity and homelessness.
The pressure put on the environment has contributed not only to the exhaustion of natural resources but also to the extinction of thousands of species, the destruction of natural habitats and ecosystems and this will ultimately eliminate the means to survival in many parts of the world.
Climate change is taking place at a faster rate than previously forecasted. The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that we only have 12 years to make changes to our global energy infrastructure and greenhouse gas emissions.
According to a study by NASA, high carbon emissions will lead to sea levels rising 15 inches by 2100 as a result of warming air temperatures melting ice sheets, and warming ocean temperatures.
In 2018, The United Nations commissioned a 700-page report on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit. The intergovernmental organization warned that unprecedented climate change is leading to extreme rising sea levels and devastating droughts, which will result in the worse forms of famine and disease.
If effective action is not taken, climate change will lead to major changes in settlement patterns and social organization, and in extreme cases, entire communities and civilizations will collapse. Due to desertification, sea levels rising and increases in temperature many parts of the world will become inhabitable to human beings, especially considering the existing social-economic conditions.
Research suggests that growing populations and environmental stress will induce waves of climate refugees that will cross borders and potentially destabilize entire regions and pose a threat to international peace and security. Since 2008, about 26.4 million people per year have been displaced by natural disasters. That equates to one person per second, and that number will only increase.
Studies predict there could be over 200 million climate refugees in the next few decades. This issue presents a challenge to social cohesion and national identity because mass migration can lead to outbreaks of violence and civil disorder, as shown by the recent refugee crisis in Europe.
Our current global economic system is based on never-ending growth, overconsumption, waste, oppression, and flagrant ecological abuse, which is simply not sustainable. Where the world lacks sustainability we also lack equity.
The impacts of climate change are not equally or fairly distributed, so our solutions must center around the people who are affected first and worse. Our generation must take action now to create a sustainable and just planet for all people.