Climate change is not an isolated crisis — it is a symptom of our economic system. That system has jeopardized the future of life on this planet.
According to two independent, globally reviewed and scientifically-based reports give us less than a decade before we reach the point of no return with the global climate crisis. The International Intergovernmental Panel on the Climate Crisis (IPCC) 2018 Special Report together with the 2018 US Fourth National Climate Assessment report bring to terrifying clarity what scientists and climate activists have been saying for decades. The climate is going through human accelerated change that threatens all life on earth.
It is important that we understand climate change as a byproduct of an economic system based on extraction, exploitation, accumulation through dispossession — and racism. It threatens everyone’s physical health, mental health, air, quality, water access, food systems and shelter and the very land that holds our communities. But it affects some of us much more than others.
Extreme weather events like the most recent arctic freeze that struck Texas, Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana and Alabama exposed the vulnerabilities in our infrastructure and a lack of preparedness for this new climate reality. It showed how generations of structural discrimination have put Black and poor communities at the greatest risk. Unless we are honest about these vulnerabilities and fault lines, these kinds of weather events will continue to devastate communities that are already under siege.
Discriminatory real estate and lending practices consistently segregate Black people into substandard homes. Those homes are often located inside neighborhoods beset by pollution and climate damaging industrial plants or schools near interstates or public playgrounds built upon landfills.
Racist practices such as redlining and climate gentrification exploit the resources of Black communities while transforming them into sacrifice zones, known as “fenceline communities” or “hot spots” of chemical pollution where residents live immediately adjacent to heavily polluted industries or military bases.
And when a climate catastrophe occurs, our current disaster response and rebuilding standards at the federal and state level disadvantage our communities, amplifying the inequality of the racial wealth gap.
Crisis. Followed by displacement.
If there is any good news here, it is that this fate is not inevitable. We know what to do to save our homes, our communities and the planet.
Our government must divest from fossil fuels. And we must invest in an energy system that does not endanger, harm or kill Black people. We should put federal dollars where it has the potential to do the most good, and direct it toward a sustainable renewable energy infrastructure.
For too long, our government has force-fed solutions that reflect the needs of corporations, banks and big agriculture that repeats the same cycle of harm and does nothing to address the root causes of the rapid changes we are seeing across our planet. Our government should work with the people — not with corporations — to ensure our solutions speak to the needs of the communities most impacted by pollution, climate disaster and crumbling infrastructure.
The Movement for Black Lives is introducing a national Black Climate Agenda. The Red Black and Green New Deal (RBGND) — a multifaceted initiative that is designed to educate, catalyze and empower Black people to take actions that mitigate the impact of the climate crisis on our families and our communities. Black leaders in the climate space are taking this intersection of racial and climate justice to show the world that Black people are at the forefront of the fight to beat back the effects of climate change and to secure a safer future.
Colette Pichon Battle, Esq. is founder and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy, focused on equitable disaster recovery, global migration, community economic development, climate justice and energy Democracy. she sits on the policy table for the Movement for Black Lives, and is the lead organizer of the network's Red Black and Green New Deal initiative.