What is environmental racism? Climate change and minorities

Let’s start off with a bit of a disclaimer. I am not perfect. I could stop this disclaimer right there, but let me explain. I grew up in a small, midwest, rural-America town that was 99% white. I didn’t understand diversity until I left just 3 years ago. But, I’m not letting that be my standard. I am learning and am willing to learn from you. Please call me out if I make a mistake. I also understand that I am not a person of color and will never understand the struggles they go through.

If you’re new here, welcome, I’m Emma and I am a self-proclaimed environmentalist. Ever since I started my YouTube channel and my blog, my goal was to make zero waste easy, fun, cheap, and accessible to nearly everyone. I understand that most aspects of zero waste that are portrayed are privileges. I want to make this channel and my blog and my Instagram all-inclusive. So, if I miss the mark on anything or leave anything out, please correct me.

All that to say, I don’t want to discriminate against anyone and I want to be a voice for positive action. And speaking of all inclusion, I will now be posting all videos that have actual scripts like this one on my blog for those who are deaf, hard of hearing, or just enjoy reading. In those cases, the post will be linked below.

Photo by the talented Courtney at Made You Look Photography, model is my good friend Taylor

Now, let’s jump right into today’s topic of environmental racism. I actually just finished an ethics-related college class a few weeks ago. For our final, we were allowed to pick an ethical topic from the list presented, and being me, of course, I chose climate change. But, I had argued the ethics behind the broad topic of climate change before so I wanted to challenge myself. This was even before the civil rights riots happened when I chose to argue about environmental racism. I’m sure most of you, especially if you are new to the movement, have never heard of this before. Especially if you are white.

I’m sure if you’re involved in the zero waste movement, you’ve seen other activists talking about this. I’ve seen so many talk about food deserts and CO2 emissions effects on minorities. I want to make this a mini-series on my channel because all of this is too much to cram into one video.

But, what exactly is environmental racism? Well, that seems to depend on what source you consult. A compilation of what I found from a simple Google search can be summed up as

Environmental injustice that occurs within a racialized context both in practice and policy, the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color, and discrimination where people of low-income of minority communities are forced to live in close proximity of waste facilities.”

If you think to yourself, why am I just now hearing of this? That is because privileged people are not yet affected by climate change or waste sites. Wealthy people in wealthy nations probably don’t give much thought to who is affected the most by climate change. And it’s not just climate change, it’s environmental hazards like dumps, hazardous waste facilities, and where we send our plastic waste.

Climate change isn’t just a scientific discussion, but one of ethics as well. Minorities are not well represented in law. When I say minorities, this is blacks, Hispanics, Asians, indigenous people, island nationers, and women in these groups as well. This means that they face the brunt of environmental racism, but have no place in law to make immediate changes. When environmental justice happens, it is not shared equally among whites and non-whites. This is what we call the environmental racism gap. Whites get more help when it comes to flood relief, street cleaners, no dumps built in their neighborhoods, homes away from toxic plants, and more.

Not only are minorities poorly represented in the lawmaking setting, but also among environmental professions and organizations. More representation across the whole board will help the voices of minorities to be heard.

Remember how I said I was a self-appointed environmentalist? Yeah, I don’t have an environmental science degree, but here is the definition of environmentalist:

“A person who is concerned about protecting the environment”

So, if you were scared to call yourself an environmentalist before, don’t be. As long as you CARE you are an environmentalist. Now, what do you picture when you think of an environmentalist?

You probably picture someone like me. White, female, probably in their 20s or maybe 30s. I talked about this in this video too, but this couldn’t be more wrong. Most whites and non-whites alike have the same misconceptions about the zero waste movement and what environmentalists “look like.” Minorities are poorly represented in this movement as well. So, linked below are some of my favorite POC creators and influencers active in the zero waste movement who probably consider themselves an environmentalist. The environmental movement should not be bound by stereotypes. The care to fight against climate change and against environmental racism should be commonplace for everyone. But, most importantly everyone’s voices need to be heard on these issues, not just white people.

When it comes to climate-related disasters, we know that minorities face the most adverse effects. They live in flood zones yet received no flood prep, they live near dumps, their housing isn’t structurally sound. Yet most studies conducted post-floor or post-hurricane, or post-insert other natural disasters here are only focused on sectors like water, agriculture, infrastructure, and things of that nature. Basically anything related to wealth. Not people. We need to care about people. Minorities also face less disaster education, less preparedness, lower likelihood and ability to evacuate, lower social and economic status, and a higher likelihood of living in hazardous areas.

Here’s another question for you, who knew this would be so interactive? I want you to truly answer. Feel free to leave your answers below or just leave them in your head:

Which group of people do you think is the MOST concerned with climate change? And I’ll give you some options, too:

Whites, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, or any other minority you can think of.

Now, think about how much you care about climate change on a scale of 1-100.

Here’s what I’m getting at. For the first question, most people probably won’t pick the minority groups. I’ll leave the study linked below. For the second question, most people belonging to a minority group answered significantly higher than white people placed them at. White people greatly underestimated how much minorities care about climate change. On the other hand, minorities thought white people cared MORE than the white people actually do. I’ll throw up some charts to explain what I mean. Basically, white people care LESS than other people think we care and minorities care MORE than whites think they do.

All this to say, rid yourself of your biases and preconceived ideas. We don’t know what anyone else is thinking. Our entire society needs education in the realm of diversity and I can’t believe we are still fighting this fight.

As a society, we KNOW this stuff happens. We need to PREVENT it from happening. We need to undo the bias that you need a degree to fight climate change. We need to forget about all the white women currently representing the movement and focus on every single person fighting for climate justice. We need to understand that minorities have the LEAST impact on the Earth but face the BIGGEST implications.

So what can we do as white people?

First, listen. Forget about your worldviews for a moment and listen to the stories of minorities whether it be about racism, brutality, environmental justice, whatever it may be. Open your mind, your ears, and your hearts to all people and forget about the biases you think you know. Be slow to judge, slow to anger, and slow to speak.

Deeper than that, you can help more directly. When a hurricane is coming to your city, check on those POC who live in poorer communities or in flood zones or who don’t have means of evacuation. Help stack sandbags. Help provide relief after the disaster. Help educate people on what to do when a storm comes. Just lend a hand.

Understand your place in society. Understand that even though you might have it hard as a white person that white privilege still exists. Understand that white people are not currently facing the impacts of climate change or environmental racism, but minority groups are. Understand that white people contribute the most to climate change and learn how to reduce your carbon footprint.

Support our brothers and sisters who belong to a minority group. Read their books, support their art, vote for them if you believe in the same values, or simply advocate for POC candidates, sign petitions, donate to POC charities.

This video isn’t about fighting climate change. This all stems from centuries of discrepancies in our politics, not just in the US, but all around the world. I am not pointing fingers at the US or at white people explicitly. But maybe we are the ones who need to be the first to step up.

Minorities all around the world are at the highest risk for the effects of climate change due to the color of their skin. This impacts social statue, representation in law and education and the environmental scene, the location in which they live, and in which dumps and waste facilities are built, and it also impacts how much help they receive before and after a disaster. Not only do they need systemic help, but they also need social help. We need to advocate for our POC brothers and sisters. We need to stand up for what is right. Hope has not run out.

Photo by the talented Courtney at Made You Look Photography, model is my good friend Taylor

Thank you so much for watching, especially if you made it all to the end. We cannot have climate justice until we solve racial injustice. I have to admit, I am probably like a lot of you and was shamefully unaware of the hardships POC and black people in the particular face on a daily basis. I cannot fix my past, but I can shape my future. I can change my mind every day and learn more and do more. And I hope you can too.

Just like when it comes to climate change, our small changes have a big impact in the long run, especially when multiplied.

If you'd like to watch the video version, you can watch it here.

Here are some other links I used for my research:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_racism http://greenaction.org/what-is-environmental-justice/ https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=environmental%20racism https://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/old-site-downloads/download-524-The-Impact-of-Climate-Change-on-Minorities-and-Indigenous-Peoples.pdf https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/addressing-environmental-racism https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4386718/ https://www.pnas.org/content/115/49/12334 http://www.aucgeographica.cz/index.php/aucg/article/view/18 https://www.pnas.org/content/115/49/12429 https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0309132516646495#:~:text=Geographies%20of%20race%20and%20ethnicity,sanctioned%20violence%20%2D%20Laura%20Pulido%2C%202017 https://jia.sipa.columbia.edu/importance-inclusion-environmental-movement https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/discovery-of-global-warming/ https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00064246.2016.1188353

And here are some amazing POC creators:















Elena Diawara

Thank you so much for reading!

Emma :)

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