Why Climate Change is Anti-Justice | Hot Mess 🌎

What do you think of when you hear the words
“climate change?” Chances are, you might think of sad nature,
somewhere far away. But climate change also affects humans, in
every corner of the world, including the corner where you live, and where I live. It impacts the people and places we see everyday,
and it will impact some of us more than others. [TITLE] The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was one
of the most active seasons in history — with 17 named storms and 10 hurricanes. Six of those hurricanes had winds more than
110 miles per hour. And while it’s hard to know if any single
weather event is due to climate change, we do know that it will make conditions more
extreme. We’re seeing what that future could look
like in Cape Town, South Africa. There, a drought has stressed local reservoirs,
leading to water rationing as the city prepares for the day when taps run dry. And when you take a community that’s already
facing these disparities, and add in extreme weather caused by climate change, it can make
it even harder for those communities to recover. Not every community experiences these climate changes in the same way. Some communities have more resources, better infrastructure, or more political capital than other countries. There’s a concept to deal with these inequalities. It’s called “environmental justice.” And the idea is pretty simple: Communities
shouldn’t be forced to suffer disproportionate environmental effects or deal with more pollution
than others because they belong to a certain race, national origin or income bracket. People in wealthy countries often think these
concerns are far away. But even in a place like the U.S., where we
tend to think we’re ahead of the curve on protecting all people, the execution has been
spotty. We can still find lots of environmental disparities
right in our backyard. As Miami cleaned up after Hurricane Maria,
officials dumped debris next to a community with lots of low income residents and people
of color…definitely close enough to see and smell it. And in Houston, residents who couldn’t afford
or weren’t physically able to evacuate before Hurricane Harvey had no choice but to stay
behind as the city flooded. Puerto Rico has faced budget shortages and
a lack of infrastructure for decades. And after a spate of hurricanes, residents
there had trouble finding clean drinking water, and large portions of the island remained
without electricity for months. It’s more than extreme individual events. In many places, days that were already hot
are getting even hotter, and there are more of them. This heat can be especially deadly in homes
without air conditioning. For example, the heat index inside public
housing in Harlem stays dangerously elevated overnight, even when it cools off outside. And as climate change brings the average temperature
up, systemic inequalities like this will become more obvious. It’s not that the United States hasn’t
tried to fix these problems before. The fight for environmental justice in the
U.S. traces its roots to 1982 in Warren County, North Carolina, when residents mounted mass
demonstrations against a plan to put contaminated soil in a nearby landfill. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency,
or EPA, found that similar landfills in southern states were all located in black or low-income
neighborhoods. Several years later, a report found this was
a pattern around the country: hazardous waste facilities were more likely to be located
in minority communities. The proof was undeniable, so in 1992, President
George H.W. Bush founded the office of Environmental Justice inside the EPA. Two years later, Bill Clinton signed an executive
order that told federal agencies to consider environmental justice in all policies, and
effectively included environmental protections under civil rights law. Sounds like things were going pretty well,
right? Well, environmental justice policies stalled
when George W. Bush shifted the focus of the Office of Environmental Justice from protecting
low-income and minority communities to protecting “all people”. That sounds good, but in practice, it meant
those efforts no longer focused on protecting the people who needed it most. At the same time, many environmental civil
rights claims were delayed for years, or downright rejected. After Barack Obama’s election, his administration
re-committed to environmental justice. Democrats controlled the House, Senate and
White House for two years. But guess how many bills they filed to strengthen
environmental justice protections? Zero. Today, EPA funding itself is under threat,
so these vulnerable communities remain at risk. It’s easy to assume that climate change
will affect us all equally, but the truth is that communities all around us — including
the one you’re in — may be forced to bear an unequal brunt of our changing world. If we want to change this, we have to recognize
those disparities and engage with those communities That way, as we find solutions, everyone has a seat at the table.

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