Climate Change as a Black Issue and the Importance of Education

Lost in the conversation about the impact of global climate change, and policies designed to prevent rising temperatures and mitigate their consequences, is an understanding of the human impact of an increase in global temperature. Warnings of rising sea levels and an increase in natural disasters form compelling narratives about the threat of man-made climate change, but these figures ignore the localized nature of climate disasters. The United Nations International Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) 2013 climate change science report states with a 90 to 99 percent certainty that more frequent and more severe weather events, and “more frequent/ intense heavy rainfall events” are a consequence of the climate crisis. (IPCC, 2013: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.) An expected increase in climate-related natural disasters is especially troubling for poor communities of color. Due to several historical and political factors, these are the communities which are likely to suffer the greatest impact from increased flooding and severe weather events. Climate education may be the most important tool for mitigating the impact of climate change on communities of color. Not only will increased education help communities of color to harness their political capital to slow the increase in global temperatures, it will also give those communities the tools and knowledge to adapt to change in their natural environment resulting from the climate crisis. 

The narratives surrounding the current climate crisis have taken a global perspective, but the negative impacts of a shift in global temperature will not be distributed equally. It is well established that communities which are lower on the socioeconomic scale, which includes many communities of color, will be particularly impacted by the negative repercussions of climate change.1 According to the 2016 U.S. Census, more than half the population of African Americans resides in the south, an area that is predicted to see a significant increase in natural disasters as a result of shifting climate. (2016 U.S. Census, United States Census Bureau.) In addition, many African Americans live in less desirable flood prone areas as a result of historic segregation. (Ueland, Jeff, and Barney Warf. “Racialized Topographies: Altitude and Race in Southern Cities.” Geographical Review 96, no. 1 (2006): 55.) Given the fact that these communities will largely carry the burden of a temperature shift, policies designed to address the threat of man-made climate change must focus on those communities most likely to be impacted.  

One of the most important ways that we can address the inequality effects of climate change is by improving climate education in African American communities. It is not a coincidence that communities of color are those most likely to be negatively impacted by a climate shift. Deteriorating economic conditions and a lack of representation in political systems has left these communities without the resources to build climate resistance, or adapt to climate related disasters. These are generational problems caused, in part, by lower education rates among African Americans. In the U.S., the wealthiest 10 percent of school districts spend nearly 10 times more than the poorest 10 percent. (Farmer-Hinton, Raquel L, Joi D Lewis, Lori D Patton, and Ishwanzya D Rivers. “Dear Mr. Kozol…. Four African American Women Scholars and the Re-Authoring of Savage Inequalities.” Teachers College Record (1970) 115, no. 5 (2013): 1-38.) By improving education, African American communities can gain the tools to address the localized impact of man-made climate change. Improved education has the potential to inform communities of color of the nuances of the impending climate crisis, as well as steps that may immediately be taken to mitigate its impact. 

It has become increasingly clear that communities of color must take action to address the threat of man-made climate change. Research across several fields has determined that those who suffer from socioeconomic inequalities, including many people of color, will be disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of climate change. Through education, these communities can garner the tools necessary to both help mitigate the impact of global climate change, and prepare their individual communities for any changes wrought by shifting climates. This policy paper should serve as an introduction to the unique problems facing communities of color and a call for more comprehensive proposals to increase climate education in those communities most likely to be impacted by the repercussions of the current climate crisis.  

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