This is The Color of Climate, a weekly column from OneZero exploring how climate change and other environmental issues uniquely impact the future of communities of color.
Nearly 15 years ago, Hurricane Katrina descended on the Gulf Coast and wreaked havoc on millions of people in Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi. Seven years later, Hurricane Sandy tore up the East Coast and flooded New York City. And less than three years ago, Hurricane Harvey displaced 30,000 people in Texas.
These hurricanes became flashpoints for the growing impact of climate change in the United States. Each caused millions of dollars in damage and hundreds of deaths. And crucially, all three had a more severe impact on Latino, Hispanic, and Black communities than on any other racial group.
Climate change has made catastrophic hurricanes more intense, according to research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in 2019, and scientists say they’re only likely to get worse as temperatures and sea levels continue to rise. Meanwhile, Latino, Hispanic, and Black communities have experienced the worst of these impacts firsthand, largely because they are situated in low-lying, coastal areas of the United States. Black people along the Gulf Coast lost their homes, communities, and lives during Hurricane Katrina. The Brooklyn neighborhood Red Hook, which is 85% Black and Hispanic or Latino, was one of the hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy. And data shows that Black and Hispanic people in Houston were disproportionately affected by Hurricane Harvey.
Communities of color are also more vulnerable than White ones to sea-level rise, heat waves, and wildfires linked to climate change, according to research published in Geoforum, Climate, and Plos One.
Recently, researchers from the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communications investigated how communities of color feel about climate change. Their analysis, which the university released in April, showed that Latino, Hispanic, and Black people in the United States are more concerned about climate change than White people.
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The study was based on data from two national “Climate Change in the American Mind” surveys, conducted in 2019 by George Mason University and Yale University to gauge public attitudes about climate change. The proportion of people who said they were “alarmed” by climate change differed by race: 22% of White Americans said so, compared with 37% of Hispanic or Latino people and 27% of Black people. The percentage of White people who said they were “dismissive” of climate change was twice as high as the percentage of Latino, Hispanic, or Black people who said the same.
People of color surveyed were more likely to join campaigns to convince public officials to take action on climate change. Twenty-four percent of Latino, Hispanic, and Black survey participants said they were currently participating in a campaign to lobby for climate action while 16% of White people said they were doing the same. Twice the percentage of Latino, Hispanic, and Black people said they “definitely would” participate in climate activism. (The authors note that Asian Americans were not included in the survey due to sample size.)
“Research suggests that people of color may be more concerned than Whites about climate change because they are often more exposed and vulnerable to environmental hazards and extreme weather events,” the researchers wrote in their analysis. “One particularly important example is that people of color are more likely than Whites to be exposed to air pollution. Inequitable exposure to environmental problems such as this may also explain, at least in part, why Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans report greater intentions to engage in climate activism.”
Climate change is going to affect everyone’s future, but at present, it’s affecting communities of color more than anyone else. It’s already killing and displacing thousands of Black, Hispanic, and Latino people in the United States, and they are responding by trying to become more climate-resilient while lobbying public officials to take faster action to mitigate the repercussions of climate change. The extreme weather events of the early 21st century have shown Black, Hispanic, and Latino people that climate change represents an existential threat to their communities. How they respond to that threat will determine whether or not they will survive into the future. For them, the future is now.
Here are some recent developments showing how communities of color are acting to mitigate climate change and adapt to its impacts worth noting:
- In March, the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reported that 56% of Black people in the United States felt affected by climate change. Using data from Lincoln Park Strategies, a public opinion research firm, the EDF showed that 77% of Black people in the United States support creating a clean economy as a solution to climate change.
- Climate change was shown to be an even more important issue than immigration and health care for Hispanics voting in Nevada’s Democratic primary, according to a poll cited by InsideClimate News.
- Indigenous tribes in Alaska and Louisiana called on the United Nations to recognize displacement due to climate change as a human rights crisis in January.