Sunday, June 28, 2020

The Climate Apartheid Scenario

We all saw the excruciatingly slow murder of George Floyd by a police officer indifferent to his humanity and the consequent huge protests which have rippled across our nation since then inflamed by the anger of continual justice denied to people of color, a “feature” of our country since the end of the civil war. Minorities had enough. We should all have had enough.
The Covid-19 pandemic also brutally exposed the social injustice and inequities inherent in our economic system, where minorities are still more likely to suffer from lack of access to healthcare, decent housing and good education which would break the cycle of their poverty. The stark contrast between white and black people in this country has never been clearer.
Consider a recent University of Pittsburgh study showing that in the US, “. . . black people are more than 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people, and Latino people are nearly twice as likely to die . . .” If nothing else can convince you of our country’s racial inequities, this statistic should.
The inequities go much further than our broken criminal, social and health systems.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of 32 million births in the US since 2007 stated that: “pregnant women exposed to high temperatures or air pollution are more likely to have children who are premature, underweight or stillborn, and African-American mothers and babies are harmed at a much higher rate than the population at large.”  As one of the study’s authors said in the NY Times – “Black moms matter.”
So, add environmental AND climate injustice to the list of racial injustices as well, which can be tied directly back to the social and economic inequities I have already listed.
“Climate injustice” you say? Yes.
Any way you look at the numbers, the world is rapidly getting warmer. We already know that heat waves kill – but they kill more minorities and the poor as a percentage of victims.
African Americans are more likely to live nearer to power plants or other pollution sources and are more likely to not have air conditioning. They are more likely to have jobs which put their health at risk due to problems like heat stress. Add in the lack of access to healthcare and the mortality and morbidity numbers should surprise no one.
Sea levels are rising and flooding is more common. We are not talking about Bangladesh or Vietnam’s Mekong Delta; we are talking about the United States and the Mississippi Delta. Even New York City falls into this category given what happened during Hurricane Sandy.
Well to-do people can pick up and move away from flood-prone areas, just as they can move to wealthier communities like Westborough from cities like Lawrence. Disadvantaged people cannot, making it likely that people of color in these vulnerable communities will end up being homeless climate refugees.
I read an interview with Philip Alston, a law professor and United Nations Special Reporter on extreme poverty and human rights. I will just quote from the interview: he warned last year in a harrowing report on the climate crisis that 120 million people could be forced into poverty by global warming by 2030 and wrote that ‘we risk a ‘climate apartheid scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer."
Ashton went on to say “There's going to be massive population displacement—the figures there are truly stunning in terms of the hundreds of millions of people who are likely to be affected, both internationally and internally.”
2030 is just a decade away. If you have young children, they will be in high school in 2030. 2030 is not an endpoint - it will just be the beginning.
If you live in the towns covered by the Village News and are reading this article from the comfort of your air-conditioned single-family home on an acre of land with its two-car garage and green lawn (that’s me, by the way), you very likely among those who will not immediately suffer from the coming climate apartheid. You will have the resources to live in a warmer world, at least for a while. Your less fortunate neighbors will not.
In the last five months, which have felt like five years, we have witnessed a global pandemic unlike anything since 1917 and nationwide protests unlike anything since the 1960s. They have laid bare social and economic inequities of our society we have so long ignored. Neither the pandemic nor social unrest are going to go away any time soon.
The climate crisis will only make these human crises more common and more severe. Blithe complacency in the face of what’s coming is no longer an option.
Published in the Village News, June 27th, 2020