The Climate Crisis Is a Racist Crisis

“How has quarantine been?”

Many people have asked me this question, and I would say that it has highlighted many things that make up my identity. These are my faith, activism, and being black. Being one of the few black Human Geography and Environment students at York, I have noticed that my approach to my studies and outlook differ a lot from my coursemates.

I always look for ways of understanding the world through a lens that links to my identity.

My passion for environmentalism first came from learning about current events in my homeland, Ghana. Being a proud Ghanian, I learned about the environmental degradation that was happening, called Galamsey.

Galamsey is the native term for illegal gold mining. What frustrated me most was the complexity of the issue. The lack of job opportunities force natives to either sell their ancestral land for quick money or participate in these activities just to make a living. This leads to water bodies contaminated with lead and mercury, which affects biodiversity, the fishing industry, and the wellbeing of my people. Learning about these events has fueled my interest in activism and has been a strong motivator in doing my degree.

Now, being in my little bubble in the Global North, it’s so easy for me to switch off from issues happening elsewhere; bombarded with issues such as COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. As many of us know, black people are four times more likely to die from COVID-19, and the tragic death of Belly Mujinga is an example that cannot be ignored. In the past few months, the BLM movement has brought many of the racial microaggressions that are prevalent in the UK to the surface. This has birthed discussions about racial issues that would’ve been swept under the rug.

It’s great to see some progress in allowing more black voices to be heard. However, this is only the beginning. Being in quarantine has been quite overwhelming and draining to me as a black woman, because the reality of these facts is raw and directly relevant. Whilst I have been processing everything in my head, I am reminded in my little bubble of chaos; that we are still in a climate emergency. Rising temperatures, sea-levels, and other products of pollution don’t care about your status, age, or skin colour, as everyone is affected by it in some way. What is evident, though, is that many of us can “dodge” the effects of it, even if it’s a short term solution.

Linking back to the #BLM, it’s shocking to know that in the UK, black people are 28% more likely to be exposed to air pollution than white people, and that Black Americans are three times more likely to die from pollution compared to their white counterparts. You could say that “The climate crisis is a racist crisis”. It is evident that ethnic minorities are most likely to live in inner-city areas that are exposed to higher levels of pollution than those living in the suburbs, and the statistics are evidence of it. There is so much work to be done to tear down these systems of oppression here in the Global North, but the ones that carry the biggest burden are people living in the Global South. Using Ghana as an example, the pandemic has placed new burdens on the country’s self-sufficiency and different sectors, such as agriculture, which provides livelihoods for around 65% of the population. Whilst my motherland’s government attempts to develop a NAP (National Adaptation Plan), cassava yields are projected to fall by 29.6% by 2080, and rainfall to decrease by 4% by 2040. I can’t help but worry about the wellbeing of future generations that will have to face the effects of the climate crisis if action is not taken to mitigate these effects.

There are so many stories that are yet to be heard and justice to be done in places unseen. People in the Global South continue to suffer the consequences of climate change on a devastating scale and they need our attention. I guess this is a little reminder to reflect and think outside of the little bubble that has protected us from things that we take for granted. Life is bigger than our own, and the fight for climate justice still needs to be done.

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