Yes, the weather is getting weirder and weirder, the storms stronger and the heatwaves hotter. And yes, Arctic ice is at record lows and Antarctica’s ice shelves are collapsing. But that’s really only the tip of the (Delaware-size) iceberg. While we’re all certainly feeling the impact of a rapidly warming planet, the poorest among us are suffering the most.
Climate change isn’t about the weather. It’s about justice.
It’s a Man-Made Problem
There’s a new normal for some of the most vulnerable people on the globe: extreme heat waves, drought, famine, and ever-increasing poverty. If that problem seems far away to you, it’s not. Studies have shown that as temperatures continue their rise, the poor will get poorer in the US as well, especially in the South.
Week 4 of the Poor People’s Campaign’s 40 Days of Action explores climate and environmental injustice and their impact on the poor. Because no matter where you look, frontline communities—communities of color, indigenous communities, and low-income communities—are being hit hardest. And they’re already dealing with the effects of environmental injustice that has played out over generations.
What sort of injustice? Well, can it be chalked up to coincidence that African Americans are way more likely to live near polluting factories or power plants? Or that people of color and people from low-income communities suffer higher rates of cancer and poorer health overall? Or that millions of poor kids are routinely exposed to poisoned drinking water? Or that air pollution is worse in developing countries and kills 7 million (mostly poor) people a year? No, it can’t. Like climate change itself, these are man-made problems.
An Unshared Burden
Of course, the problems run very deep. The heart of the injustice may be this: the people suffering the most as the world warms have done the least to make the world this way. A 2015 Oxfam report revealed that the poorest half of the world’s population (3.5 billion people) is responsible for only 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. The world’s richest 10%, on the other hand, produce half of the emissions… but they can afford to avoid most of the damage wrought by climate change.
The rich can buy flood insurance for their homes, for example, or build elaborately flood-proofed houses, or move somewhere else if those properties are threatened. Rich communities have cash to spend on protecting themselves as well. Just look at how much money ($500 million so far) Miami Beach is spending to postpone the inevitable by constantly pumping seawater out of its streets. Compare that to Puerto Rico where, 8 months after Hurricane Maria, many residents still face a long and difficult recovery.
Across the globe, studies indicate that the poorest countries are suffering the greatest losses. And, a UN report said, “much of the harm is not by accident but...is due to the failure of governments to close the development gaps that leave large population groups at risk.” As part of the Paris Climate Agreement, rich countries were supposed to raise $100 billion by 2020 to help the poorest countries with the worst effects of climate change. But less than half of that money has been raised so far.
Where the Issues Intersect
All this is made worse by the fact that the poorest among us have the fewest resources to fight back. Poverty is not merely an economic problem—it’s a political one. Does anyone believe that poisoned drinking water would go unaddressed in America’s richest communities? Do you see many power plants located in the middle of leafy, white suburban neighborhoods? Consider the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Army Corps of Engineers rejected a route that would have sent the pipeline north of Bismarck because it would have threatened the drinking water of that city’s mostly white residents. But, apparently, threatening the drinking water of the Standing Rock Sioux was not a problem.
When we talk about environmental or climate injustice, we’re also talking about voting rights and keeping unregulated corporate cash out of politics. We’re talking about people, about treating them with dignity and respect. We’re talking about building a democracy where everyone’s voice is heard and where everyone’s kids have the right to grow up healthy and strong and safe.
What You Can Do
The more of us who talk about this, who educate each other, who pressure our politicians and take to the streets, the sooner change will come. Join the Poor People’s campaign and you’ll receive updates about what’s going on all over the country during their 40 Days of Action campaign, happening now through June 21st.
Join The Movement!
Find an Event Near You
But even if you’re not able to get to any of the marches, protests, teaching sessions, or events, you can still get involved. Each week, these recurring events will be live streamed from Washington, DC via the Poor People’s Campaign Facebook page:
- Sundays: Mass Meeting, 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm EST
- Tuesdays: Truthful Tuesday Teach-Ins, 7:30 pm to 9:00 pm EST
- Thursdays: Thursday Justice Jam Nights, 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm EST
Why not invite some people over and watch it together? Start a conversation. Get to know each other. Share some food and share some ideas. The connections we make matter. We need each other. We’re all in this together, and we’re building a movement meant to last.
We’ll see you again next week, June 10 - 16, when the theme is Everybody’s Got the Right to Live.