Black Lives Matter – Don’t forget the SLOW deaths from climate change

  • Published on June 4th, 2020

After yesterday’s Denier Roundup explaining how important it is for climate groups to show solidarity with Black Lives Matter against white supremacy and climate deniers, today we’re going to unpack some of the science behind why climate justice and racial justice are, or at least need to be, part of the same fight.

Louisiana National Guard

By Climate Denier Roundup

Yesterday, Bob Berwyn at InsideClimate News reported on a new PNAS study that found climate change has already made extreme rainfall more intense across North America. Going forward at the 1.8F we’ve already warmed, we can expect storms of the “once in 20 years” magnitude to occur every five years. If we continue warming at this pace and hit 5.4F by 2100, then “20, 50 and 100-year extreme rainstorms could happen every 1.5 to 2.5 years, the researchers concluded.”

This finding stands comfortably among many others that have shown an increase in precipitation accompanies warming, as Berwyn reports. Which means it’s something we need to pay attention to when it comes to protecting people from the flash floods that result from these increasingly common downpours, flood and natural hazard researcher Hannah Cloke of the University of Reading told Berwyn.

As it is, she explained, “most of the design standards for storm infrastructure are not high enough for the predictions, or even what we’re seeing right now.” So to keep people safe, “you can’t just look at the water… it’s about how humans and water interact at all levels, and how politics controls where the water is. It’s about who is at risk of flooding and whether those people have any agency to reduce the risk.”

What is Cloke referring to when talking about whether people have the ability to reduce the risk they face from flooding, and how politics controls where water goes? Well, we’re not mind readers, but we’re pretty confident the answer can be found in a piece by Thomas Frank published yesterday in E&E News: flooding disproportionately harms black neighborhoods.

By analyzing federal flood insurance payments, the E&E analysis found that “flooding disproportionately affects neighborhoods with a substantial black population.” For example, the populations of four of the seven zip codes with the highest insurance payouts after Hurricane Katrina were at least 75% black. It’s not uncommon that you “find in our floodplains many of society’s vulnerable populations,” according to Chad Berginnis’s comments this week at a conference on flooding.

So we know that climate change is making extreme precipitation worse, and we know that black and brown communities are hurt worse than others as a result of the flooding from those exceptionally heavy rainfall events.

Those two facts alone should be enough to convince any climate organization that keeping people safe from climate change also means addressing racism, but if not, let’s remember why vulnerable and marginalized populations are so often found in floodplains: redlining.

In 1935, as part of the New Deal’s efforts to spur investment in real estate, the US government created the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, which provided banks with a map showing which areas were high risk and should be avoided, and which were low risk and ideal for investment. White, affluent communities were given preference, while marginalized minority communities were rated poorly, and outlined in red for banks to avoid. As a result, decades of banking mortgages gave white neighborhoods preferential treatment, encouraging growth and development allowing white families to build intergenerational real estate wealth while denying black and brown communities that same opportunity.

By using official federal government policy to prevent minorities from getting mortgages, the New Deal locked in decades of white supremacy that is, to this day, hurting these communities. People in former redlined areas are twice as likely to have to go to the ER for an asthma attack because of higher air pollution levels, and face temperatures up to 12.6F hotter as a result of neglectful development practices.

To fully protect the vulnerable from flooding made worse by climate change, we need to not only reduce the fossil fuel emissions making the problem worse, but also address the failures of public policies, past and present, that are also exceptionally harmful to communities of color. To do the former without the latter is to divert resources from those who need it most and did the least to cause the problem, and instead give it to those who need it least AND did the most to cause the problem.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)


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