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The most important item left out on the COP26 agenda


COP26 placed a global eye on how climate change is affecting our world. As many world leaders race against time to strike a climate deal that all parties can come together with, there is one critical element that summit participants overlook. Climate change is not just a political agenda item, it is a human problem. And a pretty big one at that.

The changes in our climate affect every human being, for regardless of our color, class or nationality, we share the same weather system – a system that those in positions of power have radically altered by their collective decision to broadcast more. large amounts of carbon in the atmosphere.

The decisions of a few now affect everyone in the world, but in the United States they disproportionately affect people of color. This is due to the policies, institutions and systems that these same decision makers have and continue to design to deny their rights and marginalize people of color from access to basic necessities.

For example, if a flood threatens one of our coastal communities nationwide, how can people pack their bags and leave without a reliable and trustworthy public transport system, social housing and opportunities? of employment? And even so, with the racial wealth gap between whites and non-whites at its peak (for example, the median net worth of a white family is 15 times that of a black family), where the Would most families of color get the resources they need to relocate, rent / buy another property, find other sources of income, and build a new life? Not to mention that people in underserved communities, which typically have a larger population of people of color, are statistically less likely to prepare for and recover from the effects of climate change.

The United States remains a hypersegregated country. Whites generally live around other Whites, and people of color, including Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, Middle Easterners, and Indigenous people, live around or among their groups. This is due to the deliberate policies of our institutions, including banking, real estate, and government, which have a long history of red lines, covenants, and conscious prejudices to keep whites separate from all other groups.

These challenges are further compounded by the lack of representation of people of color at the local, state and even federal level. Municipal governments that make decisions on behalf of counties and communities are typically not represented by the people of color who are most affected by the dangers of climate change. This means that decision-makers often do not consider their well-being when making decisions, which is why nationally, places where people of color live lack basic resources, such as reliable transportation. , well-equipped schools, hospitals, etc. .

In addition to running out of basic necessities, communities of color have been relegated to living in environments where policymakers have consciously decided to place many environmental traumas, such as toxic waste sites, landfills and incinerators, among others. And these environmental pollutants have been shown to directly affect the health of communities, whether they are Indigenous people on reservations or blacks or Hispanics living in urban settings. For this reason, communities of color are exposed to a variety of risks to personal health and material well-being.

We cannot understand how climate change disproportionately affects people of color let alone systemic racism. Systemic racism (or structural racism) is a description of a reality in the United States that creates disparate outcomes for blacks, natives, and people of color due to the decision-making of our leaders. Systemic racism has four components: lack of resources, the presence of trauma (as described above), institutional policies and prejudice.

Institutional policies describe the decisions and norms created by various levels of public and private actors that created climate change, including the decision to neglect communities of color with basic resources and the decision to place traumatic environmental factors in their environment. Bias describes the conscious and unconscious beliefs of decision makers about the humanity of various groups. It determines how our policymakers allocate taxpayer dollars over police and incarceration of people of color versus using those same funds to subsidize education, child care, or healthy eating options in those same. communities.

Although our laws prohibit racial discrimination, science has shown beyond a reasonable doubt that unconscious bias sustains and exacerbates racial inequalities and injustices in our country. Addressing and breaking down the prejudices among our leaders is the key to innovating and creating solutions to the myriad challenges posed by systemic racism and climate change. It is the conscious and unconscious biases held by decision makers in various corridors of power that determine how they make decisions and who those decisions end up benefiting and harming.

These four interrelated components of systemic racism construct the reality of the racially-based marginalization, exclusion and violence that people experience in our society, which is further compounded by the realities of climate change.

In the aftermath of COP26, I urge our politicians and public sector representatives to understand that climate change is not going to go away unless we also start tackling systemic racism. It is no longer just a “political issue” to be debated at the dinner table, but a humanitarian issue, especially for people of color around the world.

Anu Gupta is the founder of Be More with Anu, an educational technology company dedicated to helping individuals and businesses fight discrimination and injustice. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.