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Discussions on Race and Climate Change

Imagine 2050 Staff • Nov 12, 2009

It is imperative to incorporate conversations about racism in a discussion about climate change. There is a lot of talk these days about the climate change bill, also known as the clean energy bill being considered in the Senate. On the eve of the United Nations Climate Change Conference about to take place in Copenhagen from December 7th to 18th 2009, this is especially important. The climate change bill addresses important issues such as green jobs, clean energy, etc. The bill would require industry to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 20 % by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Left out of the discussion however, are issues of race, environmental racism, environmental justice, and how climate change and a climate bill will affect communities of color. This comes at a very interesting time in history where controversial individuals like Frosty Woodridge, and politically extreme organizations like the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) in their articles on population and the environment, are suggesting that environmental organizations should take an anti-immigrant stance.

To provide further context, Frosty Wooldridge is described as a “rabid nativist who has accused immigrants of bringing a “diseased jihad” to America and warned that continuing immigration will soon bring “internal civil conflict”” by the well-respected civil rights organization, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). The SPLC’s thoughts on the Center for Immigration Studies are that, “CIS often manipulates data relying on shaky statistics or faulty logic to come to the preordained conclusion that immigration is bad for this country”.

We must make sure that the rights of immigrants and minorities are not compromised when addressing the issue of climate change.

Climate change itself as well as the climate bill may pose risks to the African American community suggest Jim Snyder and Silla Brush in their article Civil Rights groups join climate talks. They assert that severe weather patterns have a disparate impact on minority and poor communities. Heat waves worsen air pollution in urban areas where more than 40% of African Americans live, compared to 20% of white people. On a global scale, global warming already has had a severe impact on countries in Africa.

On the other hand, Snyder and Bush suggest that climate change legislation (drafted to improve the problems created by climate change) could lead to a transfer of wealth from urban communities with large black populations to rural areas that stand to benefit more from “green” jobs created by a carbon cap. Hilary O. Shelton of the NAACP has lobbied to make sure that high schools, community colleges, colleges and universities that serve minority populations receive federal money to help retrain workers in green jobs.

I would recommend that we preserve and salvage civil and human rights when addressing environmental issues. Rights of minorities, especially immigrants and refugees, cannot be ignored and overlooked when looking at the amelioration of the environment. It is not my intention to support or criticize the current climate change legislation introduced in the Senate but only to suggest that race not be excluded from the debate.

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