As we faced a global pandemic and racial tensions reached a peak, the systemic racial inequalities of our world have been thrown into stark relief. But as our world warms, the racial injustices will only continue to worsen.
We already known that many of the countries hardest hit by climate change are those in the developing world. But in the developed world too, black neighbourhoods are expected to be hardest hit by global heating.
New research has shown how this is true, and will continue to worsen, in the United States. The Union of Concerned Scientists has revealed the inequalities, and shown the disproportionate effect of rising temperatures on BAME communities.
Between 1971 and 2000, US counties with more than 25% black residents had 18 days above 38 degrees C. That compared to just 7 days for counties with fewer than 25% African Americans. If things don't change, by 2050, US counties with larger black populations will face a shocking 72 very hot days each year.
Latin communities also suffer disproportionately. Historically, counties with more than 25% Hispanic/ Latin residents experienced 13 very hot days a year – which is expected to rise to 49 days by 2050 if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced.
Where black people tend to live in the US is a legacy of slavery. And we need to recognise how all the injustices of the past contribute to the injustices of the present and the future. Extreme heat and global warming are a climate justice issue – but they are a racial justice issue too.
And though counties further south will continue to experience worsening heatwaves, the problem of extreme heat is by no means restricted to these areas. Extreme temperatures are also expanding to areas unaccustomed to these problems, and poorly equipped to deal with them.
By mid-century, a third of America’s 481 largest cities are expected to endure temperatures above 40.5C on at least 30 days a year – up from just three cities (El Centro, Indio and Yuma) historically, according to a UCS report from last year.
Inner city areas, exposed to the heat island effect, are the worst affected. And these areas are where low income people, and a high proportion of people of colour, live. In Minneapolis, for example, former redlined neighbourhoods are around 6 degrees C warmer, and the same is true in other cities too.
Of course, this is in part due to the lack of trees and parks. Another thing to remember is that these areas offer less opportunity to mitigate the harmful effects of extreme heat. And societal injustices mean that resources to cope and health are disproportionately lower in worst affected areas.
Not just in the US, but around the world, the Paris Agreement threw a lifeline to millions of people of colour facing a premature death. Trump's withdrawal from this agreement, set to formally occur in less than 100 days – is a racist act. And so is any act that does not take our climate crisis as the global emergency that it is – for each and every one of Earth's inhabitants.