Updated: May 25
In 1989, UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher spoke to the United Nations General Assembly about the threat of climate change. She spoke of climate change as an “insidious danger” and a problem that “affects us all” (Thatcher, 1989). Thatcher was ahead of her time in calling out the impending dangers of climate change, and as a result, little change was enacted. Climate change is an issue that affects us all, and action should be taken at the international level, as Thatcher proposed. However, it cannot be understated how much climate change disproportionately affects people of color. A National Library of Medicine report found that climate change is “an environmental injustice that is likely to exacerbate existing racial disparities across a broad range of health outcomes” (Berberian, Gonzalez, & Cushing). Climate change is an issue that affects us all, but closer attention needs to be paid to the problem it poses, specifically to people of color.
One example of climate change directly affecting people of color is Hurricane Katrina. During Hurricane Katrina, the storm destroyed Ninth Ward of New Orleans, a predominantly Black community. Hurricane Katrina was a deadly Category 5 storm, but the real damage to the city was due to the breaching of the levees, which resulted in massive flooding. The IPCC’s 2013 climate change report found that “over the past 30 years, the intensity and duration of hurricanes have increased significantly,” which may be due to the effects of climate change (Floyd & Fernandez Rysavy). As hurricanes persist year after year, poor communities with Black and Latino populations are disadvantaged when compared to the middle and upper classes.
The racial wealth gap is why climate change poses a major risk to people of color. People of color need more financial resources to keep up with the changing climate. Moving forward, the federal government must allocate resources to improve the infrastructure in low-income communities. These communities face the most risk as temperatures continue to rise. Investing in these neighborhoods improves the safety for the people and increases the property value of homes. This can allow low-income families to increase their wealth and possibly combat poverty.
Climate change is a relatively new issue the world is facing. In one form or another, climate change will affect all people. However, it is historically disadvantaged people that are impacted the most. In the case of Hurricane Katrina, Category 5 rain and poor infrastructure combined to leave over a thousand people dead and many more without homes. The effects of climate change are already showing and will only get more severe in the next few decades. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow climate change is important, but adapting is essential. We never know when the next natural disaster will happen and we must prepare to serve the communities of color that have the potential to be negatively impacted.
Berberian, A. G., Gonzalez, D. J. X., & Cushing, L. J. (2022). Racial Disparities in Climate Change-Related Health Effects in the United States. Current environmental health reports, 9(3), 451–464. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40572-022-00360-w
Column: Washington’s carbon tax doesn’t address environmental justice. (2016, November 8). PBS NewsHour. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/column-washingtons-carbon-tax-doesnt-address-environmental-justice
Floyd, A., & Fernandez Rysavy, T. (n.d.). People of Color Are on the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis. Green America. https://www.greenamerica.org/climate-justice-all/people-color-are-front-lines-climate-crisis
Pruitt, S. (2020, August 27). How Levee Failures Made Hurricane Katrina a Bigger Disaster. HISTORY. https://www.history.com/news/hurricane-katrina-levee-failures
Thatcher, M. (1989, November 8). Speech to United Nations General Assembly. Margaret Thatcher Foundation. https://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/107817