The Complexity of Climate Racism

Ana Rampy, Guest Columnist •

When we talk about environmental issues, especially in regards to climate change, race isn’t something that immediately comes to mind. The same goes for discussions on racism; environmental issues aren’t often brought up. But the two are inextricably linked, and not in abstract ways.

Climate change is a global crisis. Therefore, the unprecedented increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere disproportionately affects communities of color around the world. The melting of polar ice caps may seem like it would only impact the dwindling polar bear population, but the subsequent rise of sea levels leaves many people without land to live on. Countless island communities, mostly of indigenous people of color, are forced to abandon their homes to flee from permanent flooding. Climate refugees then struggle to assimilate into new countries, if they even make it that far. Anti-immigration policies limit the number of countries of which climate refugees can find sanctuary. Yet the very same countries that refuse desperate people also refuse to accept their part in contributing to climate change.

Environmental isolationism paired with western supremacy creates a dangerous worldview, and the resulting racist policies have a deadly impact on people of color. Overtly, energy policies that contribute to air pollution and other environmental catastrophes are to blame for the warming of the Earth. But so are covert tactics like rhetoric espousing that climate change is a hoax or that humans and our activities are not factors in climate change. Even coming from the mouth of a delusional despot, those with privilege in a wealthy country like ours can have a false narrative confirmed— we don’t need to make any changes to our lifestyle because it’s not our problem. We can continue to make no demands of our government regarding climate policies because it’s too much work. We can buy our GMO produce from indentured servants in Mexico, and purchase our meat from factory farms because it’s cheap and it’s not really hurting anybody, right?

American exceptionalist policies are not to the benefit of people of color living here. The privileged archetype I spoke about before will not have to face the struggles that people of color, especially Black people, have to face every day. Flooding from the ever increasing number hurricanes, and a lack of access to clean water due to oil or gas pipeline leaks seem like isolated events unrelated to race, but I assure you they are not.

The complexity of environmental racism runs deep here in the United States, and this insidious web will be difficult to untangle. Because it’s not a matter of lacking resources to help people, but rather people of color lacking access to them. Whether it’s through gerrymandering, intentionally racist insurance policies, or even being forced to live in environmentally unsafe areas, people of color bear the brunt of climate change.

Yet while people of color make up the majority of climate change victims, there is a lack of representation in environmental groups. White people are often in leadership positions and make up the majority of environmental organizations. And there is also no guarantee that people of color won’t be discriminated against even within these supposedly progressive spaces.

But despite these almost insurmountable challenges, humans do have the ability to prevent further change in our climate, and we do have the ability to seek justice for people of color. It simply takes standing up and speaking out; we can no longer exist as bystanders. We only have this one Earth— we cannot afford to do nothing.

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