Check Your Privilege: Climate Change and Inequality

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The suffering will be disproportionate, unfair, and preventable.

The magic number is 1.5°C. Scientists on the Nobel prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have attempted to direct the world’s attention to this number. A global temperature rise of 1.5°C (3.6°F) is the threshold our planet cannot pass without dangerously increasing the detrimental effects of climate change, which are already occurring. This increase in temperature is the point of no return. This is where “bad” hands over the keys to “catastrophic.”

1.5°C seems like a small and minimally destructive number, because how bad can 1.5°C really be? but I will not sugar coat this for you. I will not spoon feed you the data and sweet talk you about all the ways you can save this planet that humans have destroyed. I will not hold your hand and tell you that your children or my children will live in a healthy world. You are wrong, you are not listening, and most importantly, you are ignorant.

The IPCC released a report that compared the best projections for what global warming looks like at both 1.5 and 2-degree Celsius increase. The report is ugly and mean and makes you want to look the other way. They gave a face to the name, a description, an online profile, so when we meet him, that magic number, we know exactly who he is, what he looks like and most importantly, we know all the baggage he is bringing.

Except he did not bring the baggage, we gave it to him, in all the small, seemingly little, and minimally destructive things we did. Just like millions of others. We did this.

This is a warning for what is coming. We have not seen the worst of it yet.

He looks something like this. He has ocean-sized blue eyes, overflowing into heavy precipitation. This precipitation will increase in frequency and intensity, increasing the risks of floods globally, while drying trends increase in the Mediterranean regions. There will be additional appearances of drought, dryness or precipitation deficits that become variable by region. The global mean monthly number of people expected to be exposed to extreme drought events at 1.5°C between 2021-2040 is projected to be about 114.3 million people. The ocean will continue to asphyxiate in silence, the CO2, the plastic, the runoff, the heat. Ocean temperatures will continue to increase with more frequent marine heatwaves. We will see one sea-ice-free arctic summer after about 100 years of sustained warming. If we hit a 2°C increase, we will only need 10 years of sustained warming before the sea ice melts away all arctic summers. Seawater chemistry will change, more than it already has from absorbing boatloads of CO2 it has been swallowing on our behalf, over and over again.

If you read that and thought to yourself, This does not sound that bad, then you are not understanding the gravity of the situation. I shared the data and translated it for you in lamest terms. The actual report is 630 pages long, I gave you an inch and now we must decide if we are willing to run the mile.

While it is important to recognize the detrimental effects climate change will inflict on the ecosystems and places we know or have come to love, it is equally, if not more important, to recognize the effects that climate change will reveal: inequality. The inequality will impact underdeveloped and underprepared countries: their people, the mothers, fathers, and children. Their home, their environment, everything. Countries that are less able to adapt due to lack of resources, communities in regions that are more vulnerable, coastlines, smaller islands, and dryer areas. Some countries are more vulnerable because their governments display a lack of political will; ironic, isn’t it?

If you read that and thought to yourself, Well, I live in America, so I will be fine, you are privileged, you are ignorant, and you are selfish. You also are not paying attention because it is right here in front of you.

In the United States, after the murder of George Floyd by a white police officer, Black Lives Matter protests rippled across the country. 7,750 protests occurred between May and August in every single state, touching each corner of America. A tidal wave of news coverage followed, portraying protesters in a negative light due to disproportionate coverage of violent demonstrations and biased media framing. It was ironic that the news coverage only aired footage of violent demonstrations when the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project analyzed the 7,750 protests and found that 93% of them were peaceful. Despite the data, there are still people who insist these protests are “violent riots” and that “All Lives Matter” and say, “I share a different opinion than you.”

If you are a person who has found yourself uttering any of these words, you are a racist. Nobody is telling you that your life matters less, so screaming “All Lives Matter” is only signaling to everyone else that you are not only racist, but you are also a selfish racist. These peaceful protests are not “violent,” and they aren’t “riots,” they are a movement to get this country and the rest of the world to wake up and address racism and hold people accountable for actions that are clear indicators of inequality and racism. If you “share a different opinion that me,” I do not want to hear it, not this opinion. Opinions stop being opinions when they result in the suffering of another human being.

If you have an issue with me pointing out the inequality around the world, in your backyard, you probably are not much of an environmentalist either given that there is a recent study on air quality where researchers found that “non-whites had a 1.28 times higher burden” and that black residents “had a 1.54 times higher burden than the overall population” in their exposure to particulate matter, which can infiltrate human lungs and the bloodstream, leading to serious illness. Another study found that certain communities of color were exposed to higher amounts of particulate matter. Fracking waste sites (this is when the process of extracting oil and natural gas occurs using hydraulic fracturing) were found to be more abundant in neighborhoods of color which can degrade water quality.

The planet we have been hotboxing full of fossil fuels is not simply going to crack open a window; it is going to suffocate us. Except the fact of the matter is, the suffering will be disproportionate, unfair, and preventable.

The broken system that is killing the planet is the same broken system that is responsible for the deaths of people of BIPOC. It is hard to unsee it once you see it because these injustices to both people and planet are interconnected. The racism that exists on this planet is just as much a problem as the climate change that is killing it.

Saving the planet can only happen if we can save its people; that begins with eradicating racism. Do not say you will fight for the planet and not its people, do not say you will fight for people and not the planet; because it is impossible. We must save both. Now.

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Nevada is a Senior at New England College majoring in Biology and minoring in Environmental Communications. This is her third year writing for The NewEnglander, mostly about the environment around her. In the future, Nevada wants to travel, pursue a career in Marine Biology and spend her life on or in the ocean.
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