In one month, we witnessed two Category 5 Hurricanes (Irma and Maria) rip through the Caribbean. Over the course of half a day, the world watched Hurricane Maria advance from a Category 1 to Category 5, making it one of the fastest deepening hurricanes since we began monitoring weather on satellite. For the first time in three centuries, the island of Barbuda stands empty after weather damage so intense that the entire island’s population was forced to evacuate. As our governments were green-lighting megaprojects like Kinder Morgan and Pacific NorthWest-LNG, 16 million people were salvaging their belongings from their flooded homes in Southeast Asia after the record-breaking monsoon season this summer. If this hot new weather is to become the new global standard, we must ask: who will survive?
As western countries emit far more greenhouse gases per capita than any other nation in the world, the environmental consequences are burdening the world’s poorest, most vulnerable and marginalized peoples and countries. We must recognize that our lavish and comfortable lifestyles directly contribute to the displacement of, primarily, people of color, women, Indigenous peoples and young peoples.
Environmental racism in Canada is why over 50 First Nations communities lack access to clean water. It is also why the historic black community of Africville, NS, became a place for the City of Halifax to dump human feces and build an infectious disease hospital and prison in the 19th century. In the late 1960s, the City of Halifax evicted the people of Africville and bulldozed the community. More recently, south of the border, rubber bullets were aimed towards the Sioux Tribe for peaceful protest against a pipeline that was rerouted through sacred Indigenous land and waters. The original proposal for the North Dakota Access Pipeline ran through the white affluent town of Bismarck, until its predominantly white population refused to jeopardize their own water source. Environmental injustice has pushed what is intolerable for white communities onto the shoulders of communities of colour. Environmental injustice is state-sanctioned segregation.
Our hot new world means the disproportionate deaths of black, brown, and poor bodies. While climate change may not care about borders, the tools for adaptation, mitigation and financing are controlled by the hands of white supremacy and the institutions that uphold its evils. The fight for survival is desperate, and with it comes generations of trauma. In realizing the real human costs to climate change, we must realize that they are irreversible and that justice is the only way forward. There is no time to argue about balance when the scales have been tipped in favour of white lives for centuries. We deserve water on these flames, not fuel. We deserve justice for these communities, not inaction and silence. We deserve to live instead of struggling to survive. We deserve to have more than just our heads above the wa