“The people most responsible for climate change historically — globally, as well as domestically — are not the same people who are feeling the pain first, worst and longest. If you’re just talking about greenhouse gases and parts per million, you’re not seeing the issues around vulnerability and justice.”distinguished professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University in Houston
Climate change refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and typical weather patterns in a place. We see the symptoms of these shifts as communities experience more extreme weather such as droughts, wildfires, storm surges, flooding and heatwaves.
Environmental racism describes how people of color are more exposed than white people to harmful and deadly environmental factors — including climate change — while often not having a voice in the policy creation and decision-making about their own communities. These factors can range from high rates of air pollution and toxic emissions due to nearby factories and freeways to toxic waste dumping and city infrastructure. Exposure to these pollutants has led to higher levels of asthma, nausea, headaches, cancer and heart disease in residents with low incomes and most often, people of color.
Climate change exacerbates existing inequalities from discriminatory practices in education, health care, employment and policies that influence where people live and the environmental risks they’re exposed to. For example, neighborhoods shaped by redlining are more vulnerable to extreme weather and the health impacts of pollution due to a variety of factors — from proximity to factories and treatment plants to an excess of pavement and lack of trees. Redlining is a discriminatory practice in which services are withheld from potential customers who reside in neighborhoods classified as hazardous to invest in. These neighborhoods have significant numbers of racial and ethnic minorities, and low-income residents.
Today’s challenge helps us understand how climate change affects people of different racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds and why it’s vital to recognize the link between climate change and social justice. As you dig into today’s resources, remember that the effects of climate change and environmental racism will look different in various communities. To achieve environmental justice, communities that are most impacted must be at the center of leading the movement and finding solutions. Check out the Principles of Environmental Justice, developed at the People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit, which serve as the defining principals of the environmental justice movement.