Black History Month: Climate Change Is Changing Our History

BY ON February 15, 2013

African American family in front of blue sky with puffy white clouds.

Climate change is changing the history of African Americans. This may sound like a dramatic statement, but if you listened to former President Barack Obama deliver the 2013 State of the Union Speech, you know I am not exaggerating.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, and floods – all are now more frequent and intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.” ~ President Barack Obama State of the Union Speech February 2013

For the last couple of  years, Americans have had to deal with the devastating effects of extreme weather. From Hurricane Katrina to Superstorm Sandy, we’ve watched thousands of families lose their homes, and in some cases their loved ones. We are not only breaking weather records, we are also impacting families in a way that will have long lasting effects for generations to come.

This is frightening for me as an African American mother because I have been reading studies like this one from the Congressional Black Caucus. The findings show that African Americans are disproportionately impacted by climate change:

African Americans are already disproportionately burdened by the health effects of climate change, including deaths during heat waves and from worsened air pollution. Similarly, unemployment and economic hardship associated with climate change will fall most heavily on the African American community.”

The communities that are affected the most by poor air quality are communities filled with African-American and Latino populations. For many years, higher rates of asthma in the African-American community have been linked to poor air quality. And to make matters worse, African Americans are disproportionately impacted economically by the effects of climate change. We’re feeling the effects of being laid off when industries suffer severe weather events. This leads to increases in the prices of food, energy, and gas.

Climate change is threatening our health, our livelihoods, and our ability to leave a clean environmental legacy to our children and future generations. It’s just that serious.

Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, Professor at the University of Georgia (UGA) and Director of UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences Program, tackles how the African American community is unequally impacted by climate change in piece he wrote for Ebony titled, Are African-Americans More Vulnerable to Climate Change? Dr. Shepard writes:

African-Americans are not strangers to environmental justices issues like brownfields (land with environmental problems that may leave it vacant or underused), industrial pollution, and water pollution. However, like a many people of all races, climate change is often not perceived as an immediate threat or may even be viewed as unsettled or theory. Scientists understand what is at stake; now, our community must as well.”

As Moms Clean Air Force blogger, Gina Carroll so eloquently stated, Dr. Martin Luther King most certainly would have stood up for clean air. And so must the African American community; including our elected officials, our mothers, fathers, and neighbors.


TOPICS: African-American Community, Asthma, Climate Change, Economics, Heat and Extreme Weather, Latino Community, Politics, Pollution, Social Justice