On Friday August 2nd, 2019, while in the process of receiving my training as a Global Climate Reality Leader, I was able to learn more about an issue that is very pressing, and often overlooked: Environmental Justice. Dr. Rose M. Brewer, who is a high-ranking Professor of African American Studies at the University of Minnesota delivered the expert session. You may be wondering what exactly is implied by the term “Environmental Justice”, and the term can encompass a range of issues from helping animals, to passing bills for the improvement of the environment itself. However, at this particular workshop we were there to discuss the reality of environmental racism, and classism.
Many communities of colour, and many communities who are identified as being in a lower tax bracket lack the education, the support, and the tools to survive the harsh realities of climate change. We can see this right here in Canada, and the U.S. One example that was discussed during this session, was the fact that lower income communities of colour in Minneapolis actually experience a greater level of smog, or air pollution than the rest of the city, due to it’s infrastructure. The potential solution would be a call for at least more electric public transportation in such areas, and potentially even increasing options for affordable electric cars.
Another example is the lack of response in terms of relief that communities of colour receive following a climate disaster. Hurricane Katrina was one of the biggest examples of this in action. The Black, or African-American community was one of the most heavily impacted during this time. Within the New Orleans area, and Louisiana at large, much of this community were living in poverty, and as such, they were left extremely vulnerable to the effects of the disaster that followed the Hurricane. Many members of this community were unable to live in regions that were flood-safe, or generally well-maintained by the government, and as such the impacts that they experienced were greater, and many levees in the regions where they were residing did not hold out following the high influx of water to the area. Many of the Black/African-American families and individuals were displaced following the disaster, as aid was lacking, and they were forced to leave behind entire lives. Another more recent example in the United States is that of Puerto Rico, and the lack of overall attention they received as an unincorporated US territory.
Dr. Brewer also discussed the ignorance in communities of colour, towards the issue of climate change in general. Many of these communities lack the funding for quality education, and educating these communities is the first step to enabling them to help themselves. Collectively, as a nation, continent, and globe, we should openly provide help to all communities, however the reality is that many of those in power continue to neglect specific communities. Therefore, giving education on this topic to these communities can be the most priceless way to give back to them, because it will enable them to become leaders in their own right, and provide them with the same edge that white, or higher-income communities have access to.
Overall, Dr. Brewer was such a warm-spirited intellectual, with an all-encompassing knowledge of ‘Environmental Racism’. Her thoughtful discourse, with concrete examples that were familiar to both North Americans, and those from other regions alike, opened up all of our minds to the many impacts of climate change that we may not be exposed to, or thinking of, when we think about the impacts of climate change. Dr. Brewer is a champion for climate change, and she is mobilizing the next influx of climate change leaders to be active on the issue of ‘Environmental Racism’, and recognize it as a very harsh, very true reality for many people all over the world in 2019.