The largest-ever global demonstration to fight climate change got underway Friday by galvanizing the world’s youth who are concerned with cleaning up an environment that has been exponentially deteriorating. Formally called the ”Climate Strike,” the worldwide protest was reportedly inspired by a white Swedish woman. However, statistics and studies have shown that climate change disproportionately affects Black people and communities of color more so than their whiter counterparts.
Here in America, the task to educate Black and brown people about the terror climate change is afflicting upon them and their communities has been somewhat of a heavy lift. That was due in no small part to a climate-denying president whose recent claims that the nation’s air has never been cleaner was emphatically disproved by the Environmental Protection Agency, which said pollution had actually increased since President Barack Obama left office. And since Donald Trump has made no secret of his disdain for working-class Black and brown folks, he and his administration were complicit in what one activist called “slower killers” in describing climate change.
“When you think about a cop shooting you, it’s an immediate death,” Sarra Tekola, a climate activist and member of Black Lives Matter, told Green America, which described itself as an organization working “to create a socially just and environmentally sustainable society.” Tekola continued the analogy: “But climate change — with [related] pollution that’s mostly in our backyard — is still killing us. Respiratory diseases, asthma, and various cancers are slower killers.”
To absolutely no one’s surprise, Black women were among the leading voices fighting for environmental justice, according to Heather McTeer Toney, the national field director of Moms Clean Air Force who made her case in an op-ed that the New York Times published in July.
“Many of us live in communities with polluted air and water, work in industries from housekeeping to hairdressing where we are surrounded by toxic chemicals and have limited food options that are often impacted by pesticides, Toney wrote of Black women before adding: “Environmentalism, in other words, is a black issue.”
Toney’s op-ed made reference to concerns that include having access to safe drinking water, which was not the case during the Flint Water Crisis in Michigan and the current, fledgling water crisis in Newark, New Jersey — two cities that have high Black populations. One report found that the Flint Water Crisis was directly caused by systemic racism. That’s why, Bakari Sellers recently wrote in his own op-ed for CNN, that Black voters should demand presidential candidates “explain how climate change affects us, and how our communities will be spotlighted in response efforts.”
Sellers was describing what is more commonly known as environmental racism.
That was exemplified by Trump’s environmental policies, which have harmed Black people the most. A 2017 report found that Blacks are 38 percent more likely to be exposed to air pollutants than Whites. That’s because Black people are 75 percent more likely to live near industrial facilities that release toxic emissions. Those findings led the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force to jointly call for better environmental rules and urge people to contact their representatives.
Segregated communities have also been linked to environment-caused ailments like childhood asthma, which also disproportionately affects Black youth.
Another byproduct of climate change has been the continued widening of the world’s racial wealth gap, according to a study published earlier this year.
“The estimated parabolic relationship between temperature and economic growth means that long-term warming will generally increase growth in cool countries and decrease growth in warm countries, the research published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded.
This all seemed to be by design, the NAACP suggests in its Environmental and Climate Justice Program. “[R]ace – even more than class – is the number one indicator for the placement of toxic facilities in this country,” according to the civil rights group’s program. “And communities of color and low income communities are often the hardest hit by climate change.”
All of which is why more Black folks are needed on the front lines of Friday Climate Strike and beyond.