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Where Climate Change and Racism Cross Paths

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Written by: Krishayla Franklin and Esmeralda Bisono


What is Intersectionality?

Intersectionality is the connection between racism, discrimination, oppression, and privilege. I got together with a brilliant former Seaside Sustainability intern, Esmeralda Bisono, to help us understand that interconnectedness. Together, we found the connection between sustainability, climate change, and intersectionality. The intent of this post is to educate others of how intersectionality has contributed to climate change, racial division and the continuous suffering of all ecosystems. Together, we gathered research from many insightful sources and present just a quick understanding of the history of intersectionality and how it has caused instability among communities, thus driving climate change.

We discovered an interview published by Yale Environment 360 (e360) with Elizabeth Yeampierre, co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance, that discusses a powerful explanation of the direct link between inequality and climate change. Within the interview, Yeampierre elaborates the history of this connection explaining the early forms of racism in America and man-made causes of the climate crisis we all face today.This important excerpt from Yeampierre elaborates the connection between climate change, slavery and colonialism. The discovery was the response delivered by Yeampierre that would make the average person question everything they were ever taught about climate change and slavery.

The link between Climate Change and Inequality

“With the arrival of slavery comes a repurposing of the land, chopping down of trees, disrupting water systems and other ecological systems that comes with supporting the effort to build a capitalist society and to provide resources for the privileged, using the bodies of black people to facilitate that.

The same thing in terms of the disruption and the stealing of indigenous land. There was a taking of land, not just for expansion, but to search for gold, to take down mountains and extract fossil fuels out of mountains. All of that is connected… If you understand that, then you know that climate change is the child of all that destruction…”

The irony of it all is that police are using chokeholds, literally people who suffer from a history of asthma and respiratory disease, their breath is taken away. The detriment of being a person of color is not only the health risks that you face from living in poor environments but also the chance of being harmed by police officers, not having adequate medical services because of location, lack of insurance or concern for minorities coming from governing bodies that could resolve these well pronounced issues.

The link between Climate Change Classism and Systemic Racism

When we think of intersectionality, we should consider how often we leave the poorer communities without their needs being met. In a publication by Climate Analytics, was a discussion of the destruction and the rebuilding of New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Those of higher classes were less impacted unlike 80% of black homes and black families that were last to be helped or saved from the flooding. There was the mention of how the reconstruction of the city went to privileged white communities. Climate Analytics discussed how there is a need for change within systemic structures that continues to exploit minorities and continues the viciousness of climate change.

“The task of dismantling systemic and institutionalised racism requires more than superficial gestures, but instead entails assessing, changing and even eliminating long-standing systems that lead to inequality. Supporting organisations committed to racial and climate justice and eradicating policies that marginalise Black people and communities of colour are just a few of the widespread changes that must happen. The time has come for the climate change community to recognise and act upon the racial injustices that increase the risks of climate change for Black people and other communities of colour.”

Understanding the intensity of intersectionality is necessary as we need to understand the shortcomings of our own government. If there is no aim to help the poorest cities, there is no need to coddle the most fortunate. This will continue the escalation of climate change. The displacement of minorities to areas with poor living quality, such as areas near wastelands, continues the poor health in minorities. Those who aren’t making livable wages suffer most when the effects of climate change wreak havoc in their communities. These areas are only suitable to minorities because the cost of living in those areas are extremely low. The lack of revision of policies and structures is sure to continue to harm minorities, if no changes are made. Climate Analytics explains, with clarity, of how governing systems caused the worsening of climate change, especially for minorities.

“Long-standing racist policies and practices – such as residential segregation, unequal educational opportunities, and limited prospects for economic advancement – have led to increased vulnerability of Black people to climate change impacts and by extension other global crises that may emerge.”

Intersectionality has caused our environments to suffer because of greed and the lack of concern for the fellow man. Racism has been an ongoing issue in America since its establishment. As more people are starting to come together, the realization of how disorderly our country is becomes more apparent.

We at Seaside Sustainability do believe that Black Lives Matter, beyond the movement. Beyond the slogan. Once it was decided that this country would be built off the backs of the enslaved, the expedition of climate change began. We thank you all for your time and hope that you may understand how intersectionality plays a major role in climate change, racism and how we all suffer if we continue to do nothing about it.

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