HealthStacy M. Brown

Why the United Nations’ ‘Climate Code Red’ is Vital for People of Color

A United Nations (U.N.) special panel of scientists has recently confirmed what many already knew: climate change is real.

It’s also among the most imminent threats to human society.

In neighborhoods of color, environmental hazards can be found everywhere.

“Climate change has long disproportionately impacted Black and Brown communities and so too has the work of recovery from climate-driven disasters,” said LaTanja Silvester of the national nonprofit Resilience Force.

“At the center of the rapidly growing resilience industry is an expanding recovery and reconstruction workforce disproportionately made up of Black, Brown, poor and working-class people who are often victims of disasters themselves,” Silvester said.

“Among other things, we’re calling on future climate-driven recovery efforts to close the widening American resilience divide between high- and low-income communities and to reduce the risk for Black, Brown, Native, poor, rural and small-city communities,” she said.

“Widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred,” concluded the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the U.N.’s body for assessing the science related to climate change.

“It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land,” wrote the authors of the report titled “AR6 Synthesis Report: Climate Change.”

The report included a “Code Red” alert from scientists who warned that human existence now faces its most imminent threat. Historically, communities of color have lived in hazard zones.

A 2020 Princeton University report put it bluntly:

“Annually, the United States Oil and Gas Industry releases about 9 million tons of methane gas and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere.

“African American and low-income communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution in the United States. For example, more than one million African Americans live within a half-mile of natural gas facilities, over one million African Americans face a ‘cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern’ due to unclean air and more than 6.7 million African Americans live in the 91 U.S. counties with oil refineries.

“In total, African Americans are 75 percent more likely than white people to live in ‘fence-line communities’ (areas near commercial facilities that produce noise, odor, traffic, or emissions that directly affect the population). Additionally, exposure to poor air quality can cause numerous health problems such as asthma.”

Approximately 13.4 percent of African American children have asthma as compared to only 7.3 percent of white children.

“Redlining didn’t just deprive people of color of wealth-building opportunities from homeownership in prime locations. Instead, it consigned them to the most polluted areas, near industrial facilities, chemical plants and the like,” asserted Bruce Mirken, a spokesperson for the nonprofit Greenlining Institute.

“Freeways were deliberately placed in locations that disrupted and segregated nonwhite neighborhoods while forcing them to choke on increased exhaust fumes,” Mirken added.

Efforts to fight climate change must follow the example of California’s Transformative Climate Communities program, or TCC, Mirken insisted.

“TCC directly involves impacted communities in designing and implementing plans to reduce carbon emissions and build healthier neighborhoods that are more resilient to the effects of climate change – plans based on the needs the community itself identified,” he said. “And these efforts must speed up drastically, as we have no time to waste.”

Colin Barker, founder and legal correspondent at filtersmart.com agreed that people of color are at greater risk of health hazards.

“They have been forced to live close to toxic waste dumps, sewage systems, mines and landfills,” he said.

Barker noted that they also haven’t been given representation in ecological movements, environmental policy formation, or laws and regulations.

“Everyone needs to work collectively to ward off the worst effects of climate change,” he said.

Authors of the Princeton University report concluded that power imbalances have constrained communities of color to respond to climate change and contribute local knowledge to solutions for decades.

“Building political and economic power, as well as speaking up about the challenges, are critical components of climate resilience,” the Princeton authors said. “It’s time to expand the conversation around climate justice to ensure that all people, regardless of race and ethnicity, are guaranteed protections from the worst effects of climate change.”

Stacy M. Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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