Climate Change three experts on the effects people of color and low-income populations
By Cassandra Drumond
Dr. Robert Bullard is an Environmental Sociologist at Texas Southern University and is known as the father of environmental justice. He is the author of 18 books regarding climate justice and most known for his book regarding Hurricane Katrina and how communities responded in the wake of the disaster. Bullard analyzes the intersection of environment and race. He points that see can see that communities of color are disproportionately impacted by environmental pollution. COVID-19 targeted the most vulnerable population in terms of health and but also targeting the most environmentally sensitive populations. African-Americans and Latinos are three times as likely to get COVID-19 than white people and are twice as likely to die from COVID-19. High levels of pollution, specifically, particular matter, will increase likelihood if dying by 15% if you live in a highly polluted area.
Bullard points out that racial redlining, which is discrimination related to purchasing homes and where African-Americans were permitted to live, are also the worst areas in terms of pollution and preparation for natural disasters. People of color learned that waiting for the government can be hazardous for your health. The government has historically taken longer to respond when an issue involves poor people or people of color. Climate change exacerbates these inequalities. In places where minorities live there are more bad air days and therefore more unhealthy people. People of color are more likely to live in these areas that are also in violation of the Clean Air Act. Bullard points to an EPA study in 2018, which showed that in 46 states people of color lived with more air pollution. Air pollution causes over 200,000 early deaths each year disproportionately to people of color. Black children are 10 times more likely to die from asthma than white children. Hurricane Katrina was a textbook case of environmental racism and an injustice, Bullard notes. He states, “The south is the poorest part of the United States and it is the least likely to make a change in terms on climate change. Ultimately, minority communities get left behind. All communities are not created equal, some are less protected and do not receive adequate response during a disaster, if any at all.”
Dr. Anthony LeRoy Westerling of UC Merced provided and update and some insight on California wildfires. Westerling states this is the largest fire season in California on record and the most severe that we know of. Now, these are fires are affecting people further away from the source of the fire, but they are not unanticipated. Westerling explains: “I have led the climate assessment activities for the State of California and there have been 4 impact assessments. Part of the assessment is simulating fires in the state that consider a wide range of climate and population and other factors. We projected it would be happening with increasing frequency. Thirty years from now it may be a frequent event, which become a huge economic, health and psychological issues. Not a world we want to be in.” Climate change is the primary driver, while it is true there were many decades of fire suppression, interaction between other things we have done in the past with climate change. Westerling points out that fires burn more severely today than 500 years ago, especially along the Western United States. In terms of solutions, Westerling points out we can take a multi-prong approach. On one hand we need to do everything we can to slow down climate change. We need to start taking carbon emissions out of the air. Also, we need to start managing landscape to reduce vulnerability and be careful where we build more housing, so that it doesn’t increase the risk of managing fires. We should not allow development that puts more people at risk.
Dr. Rajenda Shrende from India, former director of the UN environmental program states, “Climate change is already an issue and has been. January of 2020 has been the hottest January in the last 140 years.” Shrende states the two main disasters we face: health and climate change. Climate change has not been abrupt like COVID-19, Shrende explains it is an issue we have been well aware of for some time. Shrende points out we have only been taking sporadic action, but not collective action, and unfortunately, by 2030 the damage will be irreversible. There was no warning for COVID, but there is a warning for climate change and we have time to take meaningful action, but it must be done promptly.