By Maisie Cocker, Editor in Chief
When we look at the news, the world seems ablaze. Literally and figuratively. For those looking to take action, it’s challenging to figure out which causes to advocate for. With so many issues, foundations, and tragedies, it’s hard to pinpoint where to focus first. Many overlap with each other, creating niche issues that aren’t often put together in the news. One that should be at the forefront of many people’s minds, specifically those denoting themselves as climate or environmental activists, is the intersection of race and environmental issues.
In North Carolina’s Warren County, a community of majority black citizens. In 1982, the state of North Carolina formed plans to unload large amounts of soil containing PCB’s (Polychlorinated biphenyl) into the county’s landfill. PCB’s are carcinogenic, which means that they cause cancer. When fighting against this dangerous dump of PCB’s, Reverend Benjamin Chavis, a key player in the civil rights movement and previous CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), coined the term “environmental racism” thus recognizing the way in which controllable environmental disasters or pollution are affecting black communities and minorities before more privileged white citizens.
The effects of environmental dangers being focused in these communities create unforgivable mental and physical health effects. Due to workplace discrimination (causing economic disadvantage) and limited healthcare, in conjunction with environmental pollution, health risks towards many black communities are exacerbated.
When we think of smog, a lot of concern is with the aesthetic issues. However, the airborne particles and pollutants existing in this smog can worsen asthma. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), “Black Americans are nearly 1.5 times more likely to have asthma” than white americans.
According to the NRDC (Natural Resources Defence Council), Americans residing in our most highly polluted towns are “commonly people of color and the poor.” Economic inequity issues are a prime example of how climate change is linked with the deep-rooted racism in America. Those in poorer financial situations are receiving the most intense effects of climate change. According to Pew Research Center, “the top fifth of earners (with incomes of $130,001 or more that year) brought in 52% of all U.S. income.” This means that the elite of America is making more income than both the middle and lower classes combined. When you stack this with another Pew Research Center Statistic showing, “Median black household income was 61% of median white household income in 2018,” the dots begin to connect.
Industries producing or disposing of toxic waste and emissions take advantage, assuming that those in poorer communities will not take the time or resources to fight back against the danger the company is pushing onto them.
When poorer communities face catastrophic natural events, their homes and entire lives can be stripped from them. The most recent example being the winter storm bombarding the residents of Texas during the week of February 13th, 2021. The failing of the Texas power grid is evidence that extreme weather is a major issue within inexperienced and underprepared areas. When people with already low income are prevented from going to work on top of costly environmental damage to their homes, the damage can be nearly irreparable from a financial perspective.
With the Black Lives Matter movement at the front of our minds, now is the perfect time to recognise how racism is rooted in many of our other national crises. It’s not just our justice systems or legal forces. An environmental advocate must be intersectionality aware. Reform of racial structures must be a part of environmentalism as both are grave issues in America. Recognizing which groups in America will receive the harshest effects of climate change and environmental issues will allow us to make sure everyone is receiving equal opportunity to their right to live on a plentiful and safe planet.