Racial Minorities & Climate Change

At a local scale

Arctic and Subarctic Indigenous Peoples:

Here in Canada, it is the arctic and subarctic that are most affected by climate change. This has changed the Inuit peoples’ relationship with the land profoundly. The melting of sea ice and permafrost, rise of ocean levels, increased acidification, erosion, and extreme weather all impact the Inuit peoples’ abilities to harvest, travel, reside and recreate on their homelands. Being cut off from traditional activities has also left many suffering with their mental health, and feeling like they’ve lost a part of their identity.

These changes in the natural environment have had severe impacts on local infrastructure, threatening the stability of homes, and public infrastructure, such as buildings and roadways.

This amplifies the social inequalities that these communities are already facing. 

For example, in Tuktoyaktuk, a coastal hamlet in the north of the  Northwest territories, sea ice is melting at exponential rates. This is causing the ocean levels to rise, eroding the coast. This coastal erosion is posing threats to homes and other buildings near the water.

Boil-Water Advisories

We can see in Canadian policy that environmental racism against indigenous communities is persistent. For example, the lack of action to ensure that there is access to clean water for all indigenous communities is exceptionally apparent. There are over 100 different cases of boil-water advisories that have been persistent for decades across Canada, most notably might be Shoal Lake 40, as they have been under a boil-water advisory since 1977 and are currently awaiting completion of their new water treatment plant that is projected to be finished in December 2020 (Canada Has 1838 Drinking-Water Advisories – ProQuest; “Drinking Water Advisories|Measures the Number of Communities under Drinking Water Advisories”). While water advisories impact many communities across Canada, indigenous communities are disproportionately affected due to the minimal attention and lack of systemic change. 

While the government has made changes to eliminate some of the many boil-water advisories across Canada, the national risk score of the water quality (1-10 with 10 being the most dangerous) still remains high and nearly unchanged. And just because an Indigenous community doesn’t have a boil-water advisory in effect, doesn’t mean that they have good healthy water either (Gerster & Hessey, Why some First Nations still don’t have clean drinking water — despite Trudeau’s promise, 2019).

Black Communities and Climate Change:

In Canada, the Black community, in particular, is greatly threatened by climate change in terms of both its environmental and political implications. Historically speaking, individuals of African descent were herded into communities that possessed inherent disadvantages — they were established in areas without proper infrastructure. These disparities mean a lack of sufficient economic and political resources to effectively shield the communities from severe natural disasters as well as their abysmal results.

Additionally, numerous communities border forests. Dry spells brought on by climate change would not only result in decreased productivity, but could end in devastating forest fires. 

For example, Black Nova Scotian municipalities such as North Preston and Cherry Brook border forests. They simply do not have the tools to prevent mass economic casualties resulting from climate change, nor do they have the means to constructively heal their communities after the fact. 

At a Global Scale

In general, the world’s poorest communities live on more fragile land, meaning that their homes are more vulnerable to the consequences of more extreme weather patterns, rising sea levels and other natural events caused by climate change. When their livelihoods are destroyed, this pushes them even further into poverty. 

More intense weather also creates climate refugees, those who are without a home in their own countries and are very vulnerable. 

Studies in the United States have said that low-income communities are more likely to be in close proximity to a hazardous waste site and exposed to higher levels of pollution. 

And because of a lack of resources, these communities have a harder time rebuilding their communities after a natural disaster or storm.