Are Climate Action and Social Justice Inherently Connected?
By Avery Phillips
A lack of attention to sustainability issues has lead to what seems like a fathomless pit of environmental disasters. Polar bears are running out of ice to live on because of global warming, dolphins are getting their noses stuck in plastics, and fish are soaking in polluted mercury from the ocean.
While these are all heartbreaking and urgent issues, we don’t always think about how the same issues are affecting humans. Perhaps we don’t notice when we breathe in air filled with carbon dioxide emissions, or we accept the green sludge topping off our natural waters. Perhaps we don’t always notice because the issue goes deeper than the environment.
While it’s easy to think that there is a lot of litter all around the planet and everyone breathes in similarly-polluted air, the fact is that social justice plays a major role into who is affected by these problems. Poverty and discrimination play a much bigger role than most realize. Not only is it past time that we address these inequalities as a nation, but both public and private entities must be willing to do more to combat injustice tied to racial and economic inequality.
Climate Change and Public Health
Food insecurity is one effect brought on by environmental irresponsibility that has impacted public health. According to the University of Reno, Nevada, global warming and reports of record temperatures can drive deadly outcomes of food insecurity and global undernutrition. This is due to the impact on sources of food, such as fish hatcheries, and decimated agriculture because of droughts and polluted water.
UNR also reports that the impact on global temperatures can also spread vector-borne diseases that are greatly influenced by temperature. These diseases, such as dengue and malaria, that only exist in tropical environments could spread as temperatures expand the range of ideal environments.
In the cases of food insecurity and the spread of diseases, both are scary prospects to face. However, with the added factor of poverty, the chances of either being potentially lethal skyrockets. Those who live in poverty already have trouble affording food and live with food insecurity.
Doubling the impact of it with food insecurity caused by environmental issues can make it virtually impossible to survive. Likewise, populations that can’t afford healthcare would be devastated by the prospect of non-native vector-borne diseases coming to their area.
The Importance of Clean Water
The lack of access to clean water is not only difficult in the way that humans need it to survive. Not having the means to sanitize the water can be just as deadly as not being able to drink it. According to Ohio University, clean water can impact the world in many ways and reports the following:
- 783 million people do not have access to water.
- 2.5 billion (one-third of the world population) don’t have access to proper sanitation.
- Diarrhea is the leading cause of death in the world, which is typically caused by unclean water.
- Almost 90 percent of deaths from diarrhea are due to unclean water.
The university also reports that easy access to clean water also affects gender equality. In Africa, for example, women are typically responsible for collecting the water. As they often have to walk miles to get it, it can mean that they miss out on getting a proper education or career.
Another prime example of social injustice caused by water is the crisis in Flint, MI. The city has been in a state of emergency due to having unclean water since 2011. Seven years later, and they are still without clean water, even though many citizens have reported severe health effects from drinking the water, and several have even died as a result. The fact that Flint, MI is a town with economic issues and has a high population of black citizens proves that it is an example of environmental negligence and social injustice.
In response to environmental problems that pose risks to the population, everyone must do their part to encourage sustainability and prevent further damage. Some take this responsibility more seriously than others, but as people pay more and more attention to these issues, companies incorporate better sustainable practices.
Many companies announce goals they have to help them reduce pollution and waste. Campbells, for example, recently released their corporate responsibility report for the year. It included such goals as reducing gas emissions, water use, waste to landfills, and ensuring responsible sourcing of raw materials and chicken meat.
Likewise, it’s important for everyone — companies and citizens alike — to make goals and look for ways to promote positive climate action. Whether it involves turning sustainability into a hobby or a career, there is too much at stake to sit still and allow fellow humans to face social injustice caused by climate inaction.