Black people are certain to suffer if we do not reverse the impacts of climate change—which the Green New Deal addresses.
If you want to see the impacts of climate change in America, just visit a Black neighborhood—especially on the coastal parts of the country. When people think about climate change, they focus on the obvious factors such as rising sea levels, air quality, and natural disasters. All of them, however, disproportionately impact people of color. Climate change does not function in a vacuum because humans create it. The warming of the planet works in concert with indifference to government deregulation of energy producers, politicians whose mouths are silenced and coffers are filled with corporate lobbyists’ dollars, and right-wing media disinformation campaigns dismissing climate change as a hoax. Indeed, we all will suffer if our elected officials do not put people over profits and misguided politics, but Black people are sure to suffer if we do not reverse the impacts of climate change—which the Green New Deal addresses.
The new Biden Administration has gone as far as appointing a “Climate Czar” at the cabinet-level to devote their time to correcting a disaster potentially as harmful as the immediate and long-term impacts of a nuclear war. President Biden has made clear that he wants to create a massive jobs movement centered on fighting climate change and reverse the practice of giving big, polluting oil companies government subsidies. But even with Democrats in power, it appears it will take some time before a bill powerful enough to make a difference will pass both chambers of Congress and reach the Oval Office for Biden’s signature.
They better hurry because Black people are already feeling the brunt of Washington’s electeds dragging their feet.
A 2018 Princeton University study already lays out how Black Americans are suffering from environmental racism. According to the report, American oil and gas companies release about 9 million tons of methane gas and other toxic chemicals into the atmosphere, impacting Black American and low-income communities more than most others. M0re than one million Black Americans live within a half-mile of natural gas facilities and face a “cancer risk above EPA’s level of concern” because of polluted air. More than 6.7 million African Americans live in the 91 U.S. counties with oil refineries. And it is a fact that Black American children have asthma at significantly higher rates than white children. Higher CO2 levels create ocean acidification, which negatively impacts plant, human and animal life that depend on the ocean—fishing communities, for example—for food sources.
In Miami, sea levels are expected to rise one to three percent by 2060, a trend that will send residents looking for refuge in more elevated parts of the city—like the mostly Black “Little Haiti” and Liberty City neighborhoods. Ironically, property values at higher-levels of the city where many Black people live have appreciated at higher rates than those close to sea levels, according to a 2018 study.
Simply put: Black people are being gentrified out of their homes and will likely be pushed back to the sea where the disaster of climate change awaits them.
To protect communities of color from bearing the brunt of climate change, we need to implement policies like those outlined in the Green New Deal. The genesis of the Green New Deal--which, by the way, has been in the making for decades—is to stop humans from polluting the planet, which in turn will preserve human life. Because of Black and people of color activists pushing for racial equity in Congress’ draft versions of the Green New Deal, the most marginalized peoples are being prioritized to receive jobs and other economic benefits from it. But this will not happen until we confront one of the main reasons we are in this mess to begin with: capitalism—which by its very nature is racist.
You cannot undo the harmful impacts of climate change until white American power brokers decide that humans can get around just fine in electric cars instead of oil and gas-powered cars that disproportionately harm Black people. The Green New Deal policies won’t succeed until America decides to divest from imperialism, scale back its military--which is one of the biggest polluters on earth—and invest in diplomacy. America’s inaction is also impacting Africa, which is home to most of the planet’s Black people. Even though the continent produces just four percent of the world’s emissions, it is the least prepared for climate change’s devastating impacts like drought and flooding. Resulting famines can exacerbate conflict as people fight for already scarce resources. Africa’s lack of preparedness is due to European colonialism that stripped its natural resources, the predatory nature of global economic organizations, and a lack of financial investment by the West.
Solutions like the Green New Deal should not be just U.S.-based; they should center Africa and result in economic investment, expanded trade with America that can compete with Chinese influence, and recognition of the United States’ role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and collusion with European colonial powers that exploited the continent. Reparations are more than justified in a Green New Deal plan. Emily Atkin reported as much in The New Republic back in 2019, though she did not explicitly feature Africa in her argument. Still, the central point of argument addresses the need to repair generational harm and prevent future suffering that stems from racist policies and indifference to the harm of big business.
“The historical efforts to segregate and discriminate against black, brown, and Native people in America didn’t just result in higher incarceration rates and lower incomes for those people today,” Atkin wrote. “They forced those communities to live disproportionately close to coal plants and oil refineries that spew poison into the air; near Superfund sites that leach toxins into the soil; and near water sources tainted with dangerous chemicals. Those communities thus get sicker and die younger. And now they’re bearing the brunt of the climate crisis—whether because their housing can’t withstand extreme weather, they can’t afford air conditioning, or they can’t afford to relocate away from rising seas. The Green New Deal cannot truly deliver environmental justice without including reparations for these harms. Nor can reparations truly deliver racial justice without addressing environmental justice.”
For America to be a leader in fighting climate change, policymakers will have to disentangle their minds from the neoliberal construct that they can satisfy corporate interests while serving the public good. There is no middle ground for negotiating a healing plan like the Green New Deal with people whose professional vitality rests on their capacity to extract from the earth, leaving rising CO2 and sea levels in their wake. Of course, Congress’s current plan needs to be worked through, and implementation will require a massive national, local and international cooperation unseen before in human history. We are capable of it. But it will be because of Black people and people of color whose activism forced white liberals to include us in the legislative discourse because we know that we must save ourselves—even if white America doesn’t want to be saved.