Climate change and environmental inequality

Environmental inequality intersects with climate change in many, complex ways. It only exacerbates the disproportionate impacts of climate change on marginalized and vulnerable communities. These communities, often already burdened by environmental injustices such as pollution and lack of access to resources, face heightened risks and vulnerabilities due to climate change.

Marginalized communities, including low-income neighborhoods and communities of color, are often situated in areas more prone to climate-related hazards such as floods, hurricanes, and heatwaves. They may lack adequate infrastructure, housing, or resources to withstand and recover from these events, leading to increased vulnerability and loss. These communities often suffer in regards to pollution as well, with Black and Latinx people being exposed to over 50 percent more pollution than they consume, as opposed to white people who are exposed to 17 percent less pollution than they consume (Alvarez).

Climate change contributes to the spread of vector-borne diseases, air and water pollution, and heat-related illnesses. Vulnerable populations, including the elderly, children, and those with pre-existing health conditions, are at higher risk. Additionally, neighborhoods that have an overall systemic disadvantage are at a higher risk to getting cancer as a result of air toxins (Alvarez). Communities living near industrial sites or transportation hubs experience compounded health effects from both pollution and climate change.

Alvarez, C. H. Structural racism as an environmental justice issue: A multilevel analysis of the state racism index and environmental health risk from air toxics. Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities, 2023