4 Disproportionate Impacts of Climate Change

Julina Lang


Although climate change has always been emphasized as a science concern by accentuating data over personal adversities; environmental justice organizations, Got Green and Puget Sound Sage, explains that “climate change stories do not reflect people of color as stakeholders or agents of change” (Got Green and Puget Sound Sage). Got Green and Puget Sound Sage are non-profit and environmental justice organizations based in South Seattle, WA. These organizations work to provide a green and equitable lifestyle to compensate for the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low income communities and communities of color. These two organizations together have led a community research, “Our People, Our Planet, Our Power” on the challenges and imperfections within the broken climate justice movement. Throughout this research, these two organizations have discovered that in order to resolve the broken pieces within this climate movement, it is vital to revolutionize how we think and educate others about climate change by approaching its disproportionate impacts and emphasizing why it is important to do so.


The Key Issue

Thinking about the climate crisis today as a threat multiplier needs to expand within and beyond these communities that are being disproportionately impacted. But, what does it mean if the climate justice movement themselves does not take this into account? According to “Our People, Our Planet, Our Power”, these organizations created a survey asking climate vulnerable communities who they believe to be most impacted by climate change. Their survey discovered “that while people of color and low-income residents overwhelmingly support environmental interventions, they don’t immediately see themselves as disproportionately affected by climate change. Only 24% of our survey respondents thought low-income people or people of color would be most impacted.” (GG and PPS) This finding has exposed a key issue within the climate justice movement. Not only that this climate movement failed to acknowledge the disproportionate impacts of climate change but they have completely failed to spread this message and awareness on this issue entirely. This finding has brought to light the many flaws to this broken movement and how influential it will become to transform the way we talk about climate change.


Intersectionality within the Climate Crisis

To find justice within this movement, it’s important to approach these disproportionate impacts and to think about how climate change has worsened these socioeconomic issues. Got Green and Puget Sound Sage are two of the many organizations here in Seattle, WA, working to alleviate these impacts on climate vulnerable communities. According to their community led research, “Our People, Our Planet, Our Power”, climate change has had “disproportionate impacts to low-income communities and communities of color at local, national, and international levels have been widely documented” (GG and PPS). Climate change impacts socioeconomic factors like displacement, food insecurity, and public health issues; all of which are expanding disparities amongst communities not only here in Seattle but also around the world. These organizations have discovered through their research that it will be extremely difficult for these communities to navigate towards climate justice without the foundation and stability that they could have through affordable housing, a stable food security, etc. (More information on affordable housing:  https://uw.pressbooks.pub/121climatejustice/chapter/climate-justice-affordable-housing/). (More information on food insecurity: https://uw.pressbooks.pub/121climatejustice/chapter/food-security-and-agriculture). In order to shift the climate change movement towards equity is to think about its intersectionality with these socioeconomic issues. This intersectional concept applies to all disproportionate factors like public health issues and racial inequity; all of which have become just as urgent and significant to approach along with the climate change movement.


Diversity and Inclusion

To progressively form equity within the climate justice movement is to increase and change the way we educate others about climate change. By approaching climate change and its intersectionality with other issues, educating others about the disproportionate impacts in climate change will help fill in the unequal gaps within this broken movement. Doing so, will deliver the real message of what is at stake due to climate change. Promoting education within these climate vulnerable communities will set the success for a more just movement. This will extremely help engage advocacy and leadership from communities of color which is necessary in order to achieve equity. If the climate change movement continues to progress without the voices and leaders of those from climate-vulnerable communities, issues and disparities within these communities will continue to go unnoticed. Got Green and Puget Sound Sage described this as “when marginalized people do not have a seat at the table, the cycle of institutionalized environmental racism is perpetuated.” (GG and PPS) We need to embrace the voices of those who have been oppressed and encourage the further education that could bring us towards a more diverse and just movement.


The Bigger Picture

Thinking about climate change and its intersectionality with other issues, how long ago can we assume this relationship has been intertwined since? As early as the history of colonialism, it is something that is extremely crucial to keep in mind and educate ourselves about when hoping to understand our climate crisis. We have learned about the “national narratives” that have been stemmed into history and intertwined ever since the colonization by Europe. For example, author and climate activist, Naomi Klein, explains that the ideas of “new discoveries” and “nature’s boundlessness” has become the mindset we see today as the main drive of our climate change, (https://uw.pressbooks.pub/121climatejustice/chapter/colonialism-and-climate-change/). Learning about how deeply rooted this issue has become and progresses today, it is extremely significant to approach other deeply rooted issues like systemic racism and structural inequities when thinking about a shift in our climate change. Climate change is a threat multiplier and approaching these issues by attacking our systemic construct and foundation will build racial and social equity into the climate justice movement. Doing so will alleviate the disproportionate impact and burden climate change has on these low-income communities and communities of colors. Transforming the way we think, educate, and talk about our climate change movement will essentially alter the direction of this climate justice movement towards equity.