Climate Crisis: a crisis of systemic racism and global inequalities

by | Jul 12, 2022 | Climate change and sustainable development | 0 comments

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Article by Isabelle Greenwood

Inequality is inherently intertwined with the climate crisis our planet faces today. More often, marginalised groups in society are those who are left to face the cataclysmic results of climate change and environmental damage; this is the result of systematic racism and inequality built into our societies.

Although they contribute the least to it, it is the most vulnerable social groups and countries that will receive the worst impacts of climate change. This vulnerability to climate change is not inherent in certain groups, rather it is based on a ‘mix of social, economic, environmental and cultural factors, as well as institutional practices’ [1]. Climate change is intrinsically connected to the global inequalities that we face, and it interacts with them in a way which only highlights their existence even more. Like Racism, Climate change is an issue both caused by and refuted by humans – it is imperative that humans should then do something to tackle and overcome these issues. The climate crisis increasingly presents humans with numerous dilemmas as resources grow scant and rising sea levels deem homes uninhabitable; inevitably it is those with less money and power in society who will be ill-equipped in dealing with the harsh effects of climate change. It is evident that the Global South is being affected far worse than its counterpart, this is since it consists generally of less developed countries. For example, they are less able to deal with the effects of extreme weather such as rebuilding houses. Ironically, countries which constitute the Global North are accountable for 92% of excess global emissions [2]. How is it just for those who are not guilty of the destruction of our planet to bear the devastating consequences of it? In short, this has occurred because it is people of colour who have been affected first and this only verifies the axiomatic racism built into the systems which govern our societies.

Not only does this affect less developed countries in the south but, systemic racism can also be seen in the Global North; a study found that on average, people of colour in the United States inhale more air pollution, (United States Environmental Protection Agency September 20th 2021[3]. It demonstrates how regardless of income or location, people of colour are the ones left to bear the consequences of environmental damage which in most cases will cause a detrimental effect on their health. Another example of this systemic racism can be seen when a manufacturer of electrical transformers disposed of a plethora of PCB waste (which I should note is cancer-causing) along the highways of North Carolina The Guardian, 8th March 2019 [4]. Their government then decided to use a small town called Warren for a toxic waste facility, here I should also note that the population were predominantly African American. In 1982, weeks were spent protesting this decision – in this pivotal moment it was clear that the issues of racism and climate change had met.

It is of great importance to recognise the way in which the Global North and the Global South interact. Malaysia, since 2019, have sent 267 containers of plastic waste back to the countries from which they originated from, April 20th, 2021 [5]. Developed countries will often send their waste to less developed countries in efforts to reduce costs of waste disposal. This results in the rubbish being disposed of in landfills, waterways or being burnt – all of which have a seriously negative impact on the environment. Malaysian Environment Minister, Yeo Bee Yin, asserted that “Malaysia will not be a dumping ground to the world… we will fight back. Even though we are a small country, we cannot be bullied by developed countries,”. This severely highlights how it is the more developed countries which often neglect their environmental responsibilities and pass them on to smaller, less developed countries that are far less equipped to deal with them. These regular practices are often not as widely circulated in the media or admitted to, this allows Modern Industrial Societies to continue to function in accordance with capitalistic values with little to no regard for the fact that it is more vulnerable societies who should end up paying the price for their actions. In order to deal with the ecological destruction, we face it is imperative to take accountability for these global climate injustices first and question the embedded racism in our current systems and institutions.








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