Photo by Fred Murphy | CC BY-ND-NC 1.0
Recent wildfires in Arizona and other western states are a reminder that Black communities are on the front lines of the climate crisis.
A study by the University of Washington and the Nature Conservancy on wildfires concluded that Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous communities experience a 50% greater vulnerability to wildfires than other communities. This increased vulnerability to climate impacts is not limited to wildfires: Communities of color bear a disproportionate burden when it comes to other climate impacts such as severe weather, air pollution, and rising sea levels.
In Phoenix, the threat of climate change is greatest in Black, Latino, and low-income communities as compared to wealthier, green parts of the city.
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, are not as well known. The health disparities that exist in the Black community 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 above many other ethnic groups. Studies suggest that Black Americans in most cities are twice as likely to experience heat-related stress. Housing segregation has trapped Black families in neighborhoods with little shade from trees and limited vegetation to counter heat waves.
Study after study backs up our own lived experience that Black and lower-income communities are hit the first and worst from climate impacts, with few or any resources to adapt and recover. Even in the face of individual and community action, our leaders in Congress need to meet this moment by enacting meaningful climate legislation and investing in a clean energy future. The Build Back Better Act, which is currently moving through Congress, contains essential climate policies that can help us move towards a healthier environment and support our nation’s clean energy. This pivot to clean and renewable energy is vital to the survival of our families and children.
Black church leaders and faith leaders across Arizona have been urging congressional action on climate with our voices growing in urgency and alarm. National decision-makers, including Arizona Sens. Kyrsten Sinema and Mark Kelly, need to craft or support policies that address climate change and strengthen Black communities. The Build Back Better Act must have justice as its cornerstone and offset the disproportionate impact of climate change on Black, Latino, Indigenous and other communities of color.
How we invest in climate solutions is just as important as whether we invest. We not only need to help communities to be more climate resilient, but we must also end the cause of the suffering in the first place.
The issue of climate change cannot be separated from our destiny as people of color. We know that if we continue business as usual that lives — Black lives — will be lost.
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