Climate change impacts communities of color

by Rev. Williams

Whether it’s the disproportionate number of African Americans living near coal-fired power plants, or the communities of color lying in the path of climate change-fueled hurricanes, black communities are disproportionately affected by climate change impacts. It is urgent, then, that our leaders in Congress, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus, step up to protect the communities they represent by calling for bold action on climate change.

Our families and communities need every advantage to survive. Central to that is a healthy environment created by the transition to 100% clean energy.

While the weather impacts of climate change may be well publicized, the disproportionate impacts to communities of color, the same communities I serve as a pastor, do not make the nightly news. The health disparities that exist in black communities due to climate change are both real and life threatening. As a community, our children experience asthma, a direct result of poor air quality and climate change, at rates far above other ethnic groups. Black children are an astounding ten times more likely to die as a result of asthma complications compared to white children. Studies also suggest that African Americans in cities are 50% more likely to die during a heat wave compared to white peers. Housing segregation has trapped black families in neighborhoods with little shade from trees and often limited access to air conditioning.

Study after study backs up our own lived experience that black and lower income communities are hit first and worst from climate impacts, with few or any resources to adapt and recover. It is clear that even in the face of individual and community action, Congress needs to enact meaningful climate legislation and move us to a 100% clean energy future.

Black church leaders have urged Congressional action on climate change, with our voices growing in urgency and alarm. Black church national denominations have spoken out on the need to address climate change, with senior religious leaders proclaiming the urgency of the climate crisis and masses of black congregants demanding immediate action.

While African American communities work diligently for accessible healthcare, criminal justice reform, and other justice issues, we must also work to halt the advance of climate change. For even if we address the aforementioned injustices, we will still be left with the injustice of climate change and its horrific impacts to our black communities. Climate justice is social justice.  

Black church leaders are working to educate and empower our own congregations, who are in turn, demanding that national decision makers craft policies that address climate change and strengthen black communities. I urge our U.S. Representatives from the greater Atlanta area—Representatives Lewis, McBath, and Johnson Jr.—to join with Representatives Scott and Bishop in supporting clean energy legislation.

As people of color, our future is intimately bound up with the impacts of climate change. We know that if we continue business as usual, lives—black lives—will be lost.

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