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Climate Change and Infrastructure Investments Are People-of-Color Issues

Algernon Austin

Of course, climate change is a global issue affecting everyone on the planet. But too often people of color are put into narrow “identity” boxes that do not recognize all of their concerns. I’ve written before about the failure to acknowledge the working-class economic concerns of people of color. It is also important to acknowledge the fact that people of color are being hit, to use Van Jones’ phrase, “first and worst” by the impacts of climate change.

One lesson from the disaster following Hurricane Katrina is that low-income communities of color are among the most at-risk from the effects of climate change. African Americans are nearly twice as likely to die in heat waves as whites. Latinos are three times as likely to die on the job from excessive heat as non-Latinos. Droughts threaten the livelihood of Latino farm workers. High exposure to carbon-polluted air contributes to the fact that African Americans die from asthma at three times the rate of whites. These are just some of the negative impacts occurring now. As the climate continues to change, the harms to communities of color will worsen.

Climate change increases the frequency of extreme weather events. We are seeing more droughts and more flooding, more heat waves and more extreme cold spells, more hurricanes and tornadoes. This extreme weather strains the infrastructure even in the communities with the best resources. It will increasingly lead to catastrophe in communities of color with typically under-developed and under-funded infrastructures that are unable to withstand these changing conditions.

Communities of color lag predominantly white communities, in part, because they have suffered from a history of under-investment and under-development in their infrastructure. As we make plans to restore America’s infrastructure, we should also be making plans to correct these historic wrongs.

President Trump has promised a $1 trillion infrastructure plan, but his America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again proposes cuts to infrastructure programs including those designed to address climate change. The Trump budget is built on a denial and disregard of climate change and the effects it has on people of color. The Trump Budget Blueprint eliminates the “Clean Power Plan, international climate change programs, climate change research and partnership programs, and related efforts.” In a number of other ways, like ending the Energy Star program, the Weatherization Assistance Program for low-income families, and ending much of Amtrak’s train service (train travel is a more climate-friendly way of traveling than air travel), Trump’s budget accelerates climate change and the harm to communities of color.

Climate change is everyone’s issue—including people of color. This Saturday, at the People’s Climate March, those who can make it to Washington D.C., or to a sister march in another city, will have the opportunity to tell this Administration that climate change IS real and to call on them to take serious steps to address it.