Last week I wrote about the looming health consequences of climate change. As I was finishing that post I thought, how are these things going unnoticed and unsolved, why is such little being done about them? These question could really be extended to the topic of climate change in general, which is what makes is such a controversial issue. There are still many who deny the existence of climate change, and even more you believe that climate change has no effect of them. Well maybe there is some truth to this. Maybe these people really aren’t being affected by climate change. It’s easy for them to deny climate change and all it’s consequences when they are not the ones actually feeling the repercussions. What I’m getting at here is the idea of environmental justice –or injustice. That is, in relation to climate change, there all different types of groups and populations who are experiencing it at very different levels and there is an unequal distribution of the dangers.
What is environmental justice? The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” Which basically means that the benefits and risks of the environment should be equally distributed among the population. The environment is all around you, which means that where you live directly affects you and the opportunity to live healthy life directly depends on a healthy environment. Thus, it is only fair that everyone’s environment be as healthy as possible, and be minimally exposed to risks or hazards. But as we all well know, this isn’t how it is.
More and more evidence is showing that minorities and people of low socioeconomic status are disproportionately affected by the negative consequences of climate change. For example, A study done by the NAACP found that nearly six million Americans live within three miles of a coal power plant and coal power plants tend to be disproportionately located in low-income communities and communities of color. People who live within three miles of a coal power plant have an average per capita income of $18,400, which is lower than the U.S. average of $21,587. Among those living within three miles of a coal power plant, 39 percent are people of color (which is higher than the 36 percent proportion of people of color in the total U.S. population). Moreover, the coal plants that have been built within urban areas in the U.S. tend overwhelmingly to be located in communities of color. This is just one of the many examples in the U.S.
There are also globally vulnerable populations who have been acutely affected by climate change. Last year, more than 32 million people around the world had to leave their homes because of climate-related disasters. Africa and Asia saw the worst impacts, and the highest number of people displaced last year. Climate impacts also mess with the sea level which threatens certain islands. And, as mentioned in my last post, climate change affects agriculture; and, for those countries that rely heavily on crops and harvest, the consequences of things such as climate-induced desertification, can be devastating.
So, yes, maybe you, personally, and quite fortunately, are not being affected by climate change just as yet. But it’s hard to deny it’s existence and dangers when examining the effects it has on people who may not have certain luxuries or even necessities. Thus, in plans that address climate change it is critical that everyone be considered and involved. Policies, operations and businesses, government or non-governmental should be environmentally conscious. And, the concerns of all potentially affected community residents should be considered in the decisions-making process. With all of the talk and concerns about addressing health inequalities, in the U.S. and globally, environmental justice should be a priority.