The Price on Life: Climate Change’s Impact on Racial and Ethnic Communities

Written by Kayal Udaiyar

While climate change may seem like an equalizing threat, its adverse effects disproportionately burden underserved communities, particularly racial and ethnic communities who are the least
prepared to face its consequences. As the United States grows more diverse, it is imperative to recognize and understand how the negative consequences of this crisis affect people of different racial backgrounds.

Environmental Racism: An Obscure Reality
Environmental racism is defined as unequal access to clean environments and resources based on race, leaving communities of color to bear the brunt of environmental hazards and pollution. Historical practices and discriminatory policies have devalued and marginalized predominantly minority neighborhoods while favoring wealthier, predominantly white neighborhoods, exacerbating existing inequalities.

Air Quality: Breathless in Fence-Line Communities
The air we breathe should be a fundamental right, yet racial and ethnic communities suffer disproportionately from poor air quality. More than 6.7 million black people reside in counties housing oil refineries, with 75% of them living in fence-line communities. These communities are located near industrial facilities that emit noise, odor, traffic, and harmful emissions directly impacting their inhabitants.

Ocean Acidification: Threatening Coastal Communities' Livelihoods

Ocean acidification, caused by increased carbon dioxide levels, has far-reaching implications for coastal communities, particularly those of Native American descent. These communities heavily rely on the ocean for sustenance and livelihoods. However, lower pH levels in the ocean negatively impact marine life, resulting in reduced fish populations and economic hardships for these communities and a decline in revenue from tourism and hunting.

Natural Disasters: Widening the Wealth Gap
Climate change intensifies the frequency and severity of natural disasters, worsening injustices felt by low-income and minority populations. After a natural disaster strikes, government aid typically focuses on rebuilding infrastructure and restoring affected areas. However, studies have revealed that while white counties experience an increase in average wealth following these events, minority counties suffer wealth decreases. Moreover, low-income and minority populations often live in proximity to industrial facilities, making them more vulnerable to emergency chemical spills and toxic leaks during such disasters.

Environmental Justice: Towards a Sustainable and Equitable Future
Amidst the challenges faced by racial and ethnic communities, a powerful movement for environmental justice has emerged. Environmental justice is a concept that was birthed in North Carolina, when in 1982, residents of Warren County protested against the state’s decision to build a toxic waste facility in the county with the highest proportion of Black residents. The incident sparked the beginnings of a new movement, where environmental justice advocates work tirelessly to combat flawed environmental policies and rectify the harm inflicted on low-income communities and communities of color. Organizations like the NAACP's Environmental and Climate Justice program, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Bass Connections actively champion sustainable and equitable futures while striving to redress environmental injustices. Through legal action, awareness campaigns, and inclusive policy advocacy, they fight for the protection and well-being of communities of color.

Environmental racism creates disparities in access to clean environments and resources, leaving marginalized communities more vulnerable to its consequences. However, by raising awareness, supporting organizations fighting for change, and demanding inclusive policies, we can pave the way towards a society where every person, regardless of their race or ethnicity, is guaranteed protection from the worst effects of climate change.

Want to take some action yourself?

Check out these local resources!

Chapel Hill:


Raleigh :

National Resources:

Asian Pacific Environmental Network:!/donation/checkout?c_src=website&c_src2=menu

Environmental Defense Fund:


Lots more places to donate!

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