Sounding the Alarm On Climate Change

Coalition urging African Americans to make the environment a priority

By Ron Harris Special to The Atlanta Voice | 5/2/2014, 6 a.m.
More than 7 million children under the age of 15 have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
In this April 3, 2014 file photo giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany. The U.N.’s expert panel on climate change released a report outlining the cuts in greenhouse gases, mainly CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels, required in coming decades to keep global warming in check. Photo by Martin Meissner/AP.

“You see the numbers of asthma and cancer cases, and you see they are not coincidental,” Seales noted.

The Impact of Global Warming – Green for All’s Silvestri notes that African-Americans get hit harder by the increased power of the storms and hurricanes associated with climate change – such as hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Rita – than others because they are more likely to live along the coast or near rivers in cities like New Orleans, Memphis, Washington, Baltimore, Savannah, Ga., New York and Newark, Houston, Philadelphia and St. Louis.

Scientists have noted that climate change has caused the world’s sea water levels to rise. The rise in sea level makes for stronger hurricanes and tropical storms.

“So, black people are more likely to feel the brunt of the increased power of these storms,” Silvestri said.

Additionally, black communities have a harder time bouncing back because they were already living closer to the edge economically, Silvestri said. Many former black neighborhoods in New Orleans still sit vacant, Silvestri noted, their residents scattered to cities like Houston, Memphis and Kansas City, because there was nothing for them to come back to.

Even when cities recover, black communities often don’t, she said. “For folks who were already economically insecure, ‘bouncing back’ isn’t really saying much.”

She also notes that such storms can wipe out valuable history that can never be recovered in culturally rich and vulnerable areas like Georgia’s Sea Islands, which include Sea Island, St. Simons Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Islands

“In New Orleans, we lost hundreds of years of history,” Silvestri said. “We can never get that back.”

The environmental justice and climate change tour was put together by Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus. The caucus has three goals regarding climate change, according to its website.

  1. Standing up to the fossil fuel industry’s strong hold on our democracy, by calling for Black institutions, such as historically black colleges and universities, to divest from the fossil fuel industry, and calling on leading African-American organizations and African-American elected officials to “stop accepting financial contributions from these companies.”

  2. Organizing on black colleges, with black churches and mosques, and using black media to engage new people in the environmental justice and climate movement.

  3. Creating materials and resources that illustrate how environmental issues impact the daily lives of people of color, with a particular focus on health impacts of pollution, the same pollution that comes from extracting and burning fossil fuels that are causing climate change.

Clark Atlanta University President Carlton E. Brown began the panel discussion last week in the university’s student center, the last stop of the tour. Brown tried to impress upon those in attendance the importance of the issue by sounding an ominous warning.

“Global warming is here and it is happenings,” Brown said. “So, these things are critical to communities of color here and wherever they are.”