‘Should climate change be added to the civil rights agenda?’

Should climate change be added to the civil rights agenda? | Environment | theguardian.com



Chances are, when you think about civil rights, environmental issues aren’t on the radar screen. But stop and think about it. Remember Hurricane Katrina?

The hurricane that leveled New Orleans showed that severe weather in low-income neighborhoods and communities of colour is a matter of life and death. The images from the storm are hard to forget: bodies floating in water for days and thousands of people stranded without shelter, waiting for help that was too slow to come.

It’s not difficult to see how injustice and inequality played out during Hurricane Katrina. Thousands of people were subjected to needless loss, suffering, even death — just because they didn’t have the resources to prepare and escape the storm.

What’s harder to see is the imminent threat that severe weather — occurring with increased frequency and voracity — poses to our communities. We should never again witness the kind of devastation and preventable suffering we saw during Katrina. That’s why we have to add climate change to our retooled list of what the civil rights movement stands for.

Climate change isn’t just an environmental issue; it’s about keeping our communities safe. It’s a matter of justice. Because when it comes to disasters — from extreme temperatures to storms like Katrina — people of colour are consistently hit first and worst.

African-Americans living in L.A. are more than twice as likely to die in a heat wave as other residents in the city, thanks to an abundance of pavement and lack of shade, cars, and air conditioning in neighborhoods with the fewest resources. Factor in a steady rise in temperature — last year was the hottest year on record in the U.S. — and we’re looking at an urgent problem.

Meanwhile, our communities are at the tip of the spear when it comes to pollution. Fumes from coal plants don’t just accelerate climate change — they cause asthma, heart disease and cancer, leading to 13,000 premature deaths a year. And people of colour are once again most vulnerable; 68% of African-Americans live within 30 miles of a toxic coal plant. That might help explain why one out of six black kids suffers from asthma, compared with one in 10 nationwide.

But that’s not the only reason we should pay attention. Fighting global warming – the right way – will get us closer to achieving the dream Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about on that day in Washington 50 years ago.

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