Imagine living in an inner city, low-income community known to be in one of the most intense heat islands in California. Because of the rise in emissions, each day seems to be getting hotter and hotter as the summer continues. Air is getting dirtier, jobs are becoming less secure and prices for the bare necessities are rising; and it doesn’t seem to be changing. Your job in the agriculture industry has been called off for the past week because weather systems are becoming more severe and less predictable. You read in recent reports stating, “For every degree (fahrenheit) in temperature rise, there is an increase of 2.6% in cardiac mortality…” (Shonkoff, Seth B., et al: pg.2) and feel like the future of illness, polluted lungs, and impossible living is inevitable.
This is a reality of the effects of climate change in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color that the majority of us don’t see on a daily basis; this is why there is a disconnect to the severity of one of the most pressing issues faced by humanity today. But is it right to leave our fellow humans behind in order to make capital gains in the United States or even the convenience of everyday things?
Windfall, written by McKenzie Funk is a perfect example of how individuals are actually gaining from climate change, melting glaciers, desertification, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people. Oil companies are able to drill on more land due to melting and people investing in farmland will be gaining lots of profit are examples of how climate change can actually be business opportunity; and with these examples I began to question whether or not climate change was actually causing more harm than good. But when World’s Wildlife Fund Arctic Program Head took the stage at the Arctic Frontiers Conference, he explained that,
“The expansion of oil and gas activities in the Arctic will fuel further greenhouse-gas emissions, which will, in turn, cause further warming and systemic changes to the Earth’s system, which, in turn, will cause massive impacts in the Arctic and globally, which will hurt you and me, Ladies and gentlemen, we are living inside a paradox.” (Funk: Windfall, pg. 47) As John Rawls constructs in his theory of justice as fairness and equality, there should be an equal starting point in everyone’s life. Those who have certain talents or advantages in the world should help those least well off. Our nation needs to work towards helping the less well off and this doesn’t mean giving up all the money that they earned. We have seen fellow American people fall to the effects of climate change in low income and communities of color. Air pollution is one of the major effects that are present in these communities, with “Every degree risen (one degree celsius) there are 1,000 excess air-pollution related deaths.” (Shonkoff, Seth B., et al: pg.7)
Policy to move towards reducing carbon emissions, which in turn, would help air pollution and stop (or slow down) further warming and sporadic weather patterns in our world, have done more harm than good in these low income neighborhoods. A policy that was implementing raising prices on carbon was calculated to cost people in the lowest income households 3.3% of their income, while in the highest income bracket, a household would only be paying 1.7% of their income on average (Morello-Frosch, Rachel, et al.: pg. 10-24).
So if policy isn’t being the most successful in solving climate crisis’ we are seeing in our own backyard. Then what can we do? In the fast-paced world today, convenience can be key while running out the door or stopping in your local supermarket to buy lunch. You are entitled to making your own decisions, but that also means that you have a social obligation to be aware of the consequences your actions have on other people. You have your own mind, body, and spirit; but as a society we have all agreed to live and work together, meaning that it is important to value your individual rights but also value the health and wellness of those least advantaged in the world. Our neighbors, fellow Americans, are seeing harsh consequences of other Americans’ carbon consumption. Being a part of a society means that it is crucial to understand the impacts of your own consumption. Individual choices as well as choices made by government and large industry make or break lives of those living in low-income communities and communities of color. Even though we may have different economic and socio-economic stance, we are a group of people who have agreed to work together and live cohesively; meaning that it is okay to make individual choices but it is a social obligation to see and be aware of the impact of those small acts. You may not see it, but those choices, big or small, impact human life on a large scale.