Is North Carolina Racist 1

theme - climate change

When a toxic waste dump was to be set up in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982, the term “environmental racism” was used for the first time - at least in a way that generated media coverage. A protester, the African-American civil rights activist Benjamin Chavis, is said to have introduced it. Warren County was one of the poorest counties in the state at the time, with two-thirds of the population being African American. Many of them defended themselves against the landfill with demos, sit-in blocks and roadblocks, and over 500 protesters were arrested. The plant was built anyway. Shortly afterwards, the building material PCB deposited there was banned worldwide - because it is carcinogenic and genetically damaging.

Those who have little money are on average more exposed to environmental risks

Since then, various studies have shown that People of Color (PoC) in the US are exposed to more environmental risks than white people - partly because dirty industries are more often placed in regions where mainly PoC live. In 2018, a study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that blacks in the US are exposed to an average of 1.5 times as much particulate matter as whites - Hispanics 1.2 times as much.

Low-income people are also more exposed to environmental risks: For example, they are exposed to 1.3 times as much particulate matter as people above the poverty line. So when we talk about environmental racism, we usually mean class differences. The phenomena go hand in hand - and not only in the USA: In Germany, too, recent studies show that a lower social status goes hand in hand with a higher level of environmental pollution.

While everyone is talking about Greta Thunberg, it is young Activists of Color Barely any media attention - but there are quite a few. For example, twelve year old Amariyanna Copeny, nicknamed “Little Miss Flint”. The drinking water in her hometown of Flint, Michigan, has been contaminated with lead. Since 2014, 100,000 people have been exposed to toxins, more than half of them are PoC. "Little Miss Flint" has not yet made it into the German-speaking media.

The global economy creates social inequalities that often run along formerly colonial lines: Western companies produce cheaply in countries that used to be colonialist and now have fragile state structures. They use the often lower environmental protection standards there, sometimes pollute nature and often ignore the needs of those affected. This was the case, for example, in a Unilever thermometer factory in southern India. From 1984 to 2001, toxic mercury waste was released into the ground there. 45 factory workers are said to have died as a result of the toxins. Others suffered from kidney problems, memory loss, and miscarriages. It took 15 years for the group to comply with the demands of the 591 victims and to compensate them; the exact amount is not known

Originally, the discussion about environmental racism was about the question of which people in their immediate vicinity are exposed to environmental risks and which are not. Climate change has given the whole thing a new dimension because its causes and consequences are unevenly distributed across the planet: Some countries, for example Honduras, Haiti or Myanmar, are much more affected by the effects of climate change - natural disasters, water shortages, crop failures, the rising one Sea levels etc. - affected, although they only generate a fraction of global CO2 emissions.

Many countries in the so-called global south are particularly dependent on agriculture and often have a comparatively poor infrastructure. That makes them vulnerable when it comes to the threat of climate change. In addition, there is little money there to counteract the effects of climate change. The result: you have to flee.

More people are already fleeing climate change than from wars

In 2017 there were already an estimated three times more climate refugees than war refugees. The numbers vary because the problem is complex and there are still no standardized survey methods. The aid organization Oxfam, for example, reckons with 20 million refugees annually, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) with 25 million. But all the estimates agree on one thing: in the next 20 or 30 years the numbers will multiply.

Of course, not all people in highly industrialized countries benefit equally from the exploitation of resources. And in less well-developed countries not all are automatically victims of the climate crisis. Basically, however, the following applies: According to the Federal Environment Agency, the higher the income, the higher the environmental pollution caused - for example through more frequent air travel or your own car they are responsible, suffer least from the consequences - now also in a global context.

Photos: Andrea Frazzetta / INSTITUTE


This text was published under the license CC-BY-NC-ND-4.0-DE. The photos may not be used.