Climate change is the most dire threat to the human species — it is not a future crisis but one that is wreaking havoc across the world now.
A catastrophic hurricane ravages through Florida taking dozens of lives; one-third of Pakistan remains submerged in water from extreme flooding with over 1 million homes destroyed; nearly all of Puerto Rico lacks electricity and clean water, at the same time the region is experiencing blazing heat waves upwards of 110 degrees.
Reading the headlines alone it would be easy to mistake such massive destruction for a movie plot, but it is in fact our grim reality.
Climate change is especially disastrous for communities who are already most vulnerable, but its impacts will be felt across all geographies and demographics. In the media, the most prominent imagery might lead us to believe that only coastal cities or islands are at-risk, but even in-land regions are increasingly under threat of extreme events.
Here in our home state, the entire Southern half of Missouri is experiencing a period of prolonged drought, and the majority of Jackson County is experiencing a “moderate drought.” High levels of heat are occurring all across the country, most notably in California where the state asked its citizens to conserve their energy usage to avoid a heat-caused blackout.
Global warming, a symptom of climate change, has caused these droughts and worsened the status of agricultural land. Because of this, the University of Missouri reported that the midwest will be the hardest hit by climate change and that Missouri will likely “cease all corn production by 2050.” Missouri stands as the 8th largest exporter of corn in the United States. This year alone however, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that Kansas farmers will harvest 122 million bushels less than 2021 due to the drought.
Despite these catastrophic heatwaves, little substantive action is being taken and many motions to pass legislation have been shut down. In the United States, The Green New Deal is the most advanced piece of climate-related legislation produced at the federal level to-date, originally coined by former Green Party candidate for President Howie Hawkins. While the Hawkins version is highly impactful and immediate, Congress has put forth watered down versions of the bill and even those have been rejected.
Senator Bernie Sanders, the Independent from Vermont, introduced the Green New Deal which was shut down by Corporatist Democrats and Republicans. In the House of Representatives, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez introduced the Green New Deal over a year ago, and the Democrat House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, let it die.
As the ongoing climate crisis worsens, the inaction from the federal government is most lethal for communities of color and those in the global south.
In a disturbing report published by Princeton, more than 6.7 million Black people live in the 91 U.S counties with oil refineries and Black families are 75% more likely to live in areas known as “fence-line” communities (areas that are directly affected by pollution).
The same report by Princeton noted that there are disproportionate side effects of pollution on Black families. Nearly twice as many Black children suffer from asthma than white children.
While some might argue that it is only happenstance that Black folks have been relegated to such dangerous areas, there are numerous examples across the country demonstrating that it is in fact purposeful design. In Brooklyn, New York for instance, a pipeline was built that went around a white neighborhood, but “beelined through a Black neighborhood.”
In addition to these toxic sites being intentionally placed in Black communities, there are also numerous reasons why Black families often live in poorer areas or in lower socioeconomic conditions than white families. When Home Owners Associations (HOAs) began exploding in popularity during the 1960s, they were quickly weaponized and prohibited Black families from moving into upper class neighborhoods. To this day, HOAs use racist language in contracts, and areas with HOAs are less diverse than areas without them.
Further, the United States also maintains one of the largest racial wage gaps in the world. Black men earn 87 cents for every dollar a white man makes. Even when accounting for the same exact experience and education, Black men still make less than white men. This is increasingly true for Black women who face not only racism, but also the compounding effects of sexism and misogynoir.
Because Black families take home less money, and HOAs discriminate, Black communities are pushed towards these polluted, deadly areas — or the deadly toxic waste is brought to them.
Despite the fact that climate change and ecological catastrophe continue to show themselves as increasingly grave threats to our species, the United States lags far behind the rest of the world in taking any meaningful action to combat the potential extinction trajectory we are on. The United States is among the world’s worst culprits contributing to climate change, and is doing perhaps the least to mitigate it.
If we are to secure a future that does not result in extinction and mass death, we can no longer wait for clunky, bureaucratic institutions like the federal government to take action out of their own moral aptitude, we must organize ourselves and our communities to demand that they do so.