Although the United States is no stranger to racism in the modern age, environmental racism carries particularly strong consequences if it does not find resolution within the next few decades. The implications of a future in which communities of color face the brunt of pollution and other environmental hazards brought on by the changing world ecosystem are incredibly bleak.
Climate change is rapidly changing our natural environment from the melting of the ice caps to the salinization of our world’s freshwater sources. Pollution as a result of industrialization continues to augment, especially in the developing world,
In the absence of meaningful strides towards an activist mindset towards environmental racism at the social level, environmental racism will not remain at the status quo. The environmental health of countless people of color will deteriorate as more pollution is released into the ecosystem by both large and small industrialists, agriculturists, and waste managers.
To see the implications of a future steeped in environmental racism, one need not look farther than New Orleans, Louisiana. For background, Hurricane Katrina was a devastating hurricane that hit the southern United States in 2005. It was the deadliest hurricane to ever hit the United States in recorded history and cost around 1,833 peoples’ lives. Although Katrina was only a Category Three hurricane at the time of its landfall, poor local and state management of the levies in New Orleans caused them to break. Most of those affected where people of color, and many at the time felt that the lackluster FEMA response had a racist component.
According to a study done by James R. Elliott on attitudes of those effected by Katrina, strong divides still exist along race and class lines in response to and attitudes about the hurricane. As a whole, wealthier white residents of New Orleans reported being happier, healthier, and more food secure than their counterparts in communities of color.
Katrina is just one illustration of what may continue to happen if American society does not actively mobilize to end and further prevent environmental racism. As climate change continues to grow as a global crisis, those with the social and political capital needed to influence government must ensure that communities of color do not suffer the brunt of the consequences.