You’re probably wondering why these communities of people? Why should we focus our time and energy on these people? Why are they any different from other Canadian citizens? What is the link between climate change and these racially marginalized communities? Well, with the various anti-racism protests erupting globally, there is a pressing need to address the elephant in the room, inequality, in all its forms. A little perspective to begin with, shall we?
Did you know, members of these communities are economically disadvantaged and socially marginalized? These people are usually underrepresented in climate change policy-making and movement. They have limited access to political resources and economic resources. They often miss out on social assistance due to a lack of diversity and inclusion in government decision-making.
What does this mean? They lack access to proper health care facilities, education, adequate housing and infrastructure, and even suffer from malnutrition. On top of these issues, they have to deal with environmental pollution caused by the government’s inaction to environmental racism. All these conditions influence these people, putting them in a vulnerable position –such that a little sprinkle of climate change impacts might spell doom for them. Not to be the prophet of doom or bearer of bad news, but this is their reality. There is a higher chance that racially marginalized communities will suffer/ die from climate change impacts than any other groups in Canada.
A UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Toxics completed a visit to Canada in 2019 and authored a report about their findings. The report highlighted the longstanding discriminatory and health devastating pollution experienced in Black and Indigenous communities across Canada. Highlighted case studies include the mercury pollution crisis in Grassy Narrows, the pollution from petrochemical plants in Aamjiwnaang First Nation, the placement of toxic waste sites near African Nova Scotian communities, and oil sands pollution in Fort McMurray. These cases exemplify Canadian environmental racism at its core. The government has not provided a sustainable solution to these issues.
Climate change no doubt has devastating and far-reaching effects on the health and well-being of humans. Environmental racism, a term we are all too familiar with, only exacerbates its impacts.
“On climate change issues, it’s the minorities and the poorest people that are affected the most because their communities are usually, in the case of environmental racism, placed near places like natural gas plants or dumps, so they experience health problems more than other members of the community.” by Chaz Garraway from his presentation to the UN (CBC news report)
Low-income urban neighborhoods and visible minority communities are particularly vulnerable to heatwaves –an extreme weather condition due to climate change. They are often segregated in the inner cities, where dark-coloured materials are used for construction. These materials absorb heat and do not allow it to dissipate at the same rate as soil, grass, forests, and other less industrial materials. Many of these communities lack proper cooling systems, which puts them at risk of heat-related illnesses and death.
Regarding job opportunities, sectors that will likely be significantly affected by climate change, such as agriculture and tourism, are held by low-income visible minorities. They would be the first to lose their jobs and have their wages decreased.
What about food? Due to climate change which leads to the scarcity of food, a hike in food prices is inevitable. Low-income families are disproportionately visible minorities. They will be forced to spend a more significant proportion of their income on food, energy, and other household needs.
Furthermore, flooding and snowstorms’ effects, such as power outages and delayed repairs, cripple these communities by stopping home water systems, elevators, heating/cooling systems, etc. According to Garraway in the CBC news report, “These communities aren’t as protected and don’t have good infrastructure to protect against some of the effects of climate change like severe weather and storm surges.
Research shows that many pollutants associated with climate change, such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide, have detrimental health consequences. Visible minorities and the poor in urban areas, who are likely to lack health insurance, are exposed to elevated levels of these air pollutants that may lead to more significant health impacts from air pollution.
Do you now see why the issue of climate change and its impacts on minority groups needed to be discussed? You would be surprised at the amount of established laws and policies on climate action in Canada that fail to address the specific circumstances facing racialized communities. Join us again in this discussion on climate change tomorrow, where we will be highlighting some of the policies regarding climate action in Canada.
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