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Originally published on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Why Climate Change Matters to Black Lives

Climate change is a global environmental justice issue that disproportionately endangers the lives of people of color.

The same white supremacist logic that the Department of Justice and the police use to justify the murders of Black and Brown people also perpetuates environmental injustice. If we want to stop the killing of unarmed Black people, we cannot only look at the killings committed by police officers. We must also look at the slow, insidious killing of Black people through environmental pollutants that disproportionately affect Black and Brown communities.

Although climate change is destroying the entire planet, it is affecting Black communities first and worst. We already saw this during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy, where Black people were the last to be rescued from the wreckage. Black people have the highest rates of asthma and Black woman have high rates of infant mortality because (poor) Black people are literally breathing different air than (rich) white people. The places with the lowest air quality and highest levels of toxins are also the places where the majority of minorities live due to the lower cost of living there. As the frequency of natural disasters due to climate change (like Katrina and Sandy) increases, those with money and power will be able to protect their own, while marginalized communities will have to fend for themselves.

If Black lives mattered as much as white lives did, we would have already done something about climate change. White political elites in the USA, England, and Germany are just starting to feel the effects of climate change yet. Meanwhile, droughts have killed thousands in Africa, monsoons are drowning people in India, decreased snowpack is causing fresh water shortages in South America, melting glaciers have displaced thousands of indigenous people in the Arctic, and tides are rising over Pacific Islanders' homes. The failure of the global community to take action on climate change to stop these effects tells us that those in power do not actually believe that poor people’s lives, likes of people of color, and particularly black lives matter.

Those opposing police brutality should also oppose the larger racist superstructure that creates and perpetuates environmental injustice.