The Effects of Climate Change on Marginalized Communities Near and Far

Posted on May 28, 2024 By

This is the third of three posts by this  author on the environment; see Part 1 and Part 2

by Christina Yao Pelliccioni

By now, you probably have gotten the idea that climate change produces real and tangible threats to human life and wellbeing. But where are these most being felt? According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, carbon-fueled climate change has been causing people to leave their homes for years now. This comes from both climate-fueled catastrophes and slower-moving disasters, such as rising sea levels, lower crop yields due to changes in temperature, or changes in rainfall.

In Alaska, the villages of indigenous people are washing away as permafrost melts. In Bangladesh, frequent flooding and the loss of farmland are pushing more people to the cities. In Pacific Island countries, people are watching their homes disappear to rising sea levels. Most shockingly, in Louisiana, tribal residents lose a football field of land to the rising sea level of the Gulf Coast every 90 seconds!

The recognition of climate migration is relatively new. In 2016, President Barack Obama formally observed the relationship between migration and climate change in his memorandum “Climate Change and National Security.” World leaders have also recognized that something needs to be done. In 2015, a Task Force on Displacement was created at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21). This paved the way for the creation of the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration and Global Compact on Refugees in 2018.

In 2018, the World Bank estimated climate change would displace more than 140 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin American by 2050. A report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies stated that in 2020 98% of disasters were related to “weather and climate” and 30.7 million people were displaced. The climate crisis disproportionately affects Black, Indigenous, and people of color, especially women. Women are more likely to be caretakers of those not easily moved, more likely to be living in poverty, and more likely to be at risk of gender-based violence.

Keeping all this in mind, it is not surprising that the poorer countries that are living with the results of climate change are not the main countries that are causing the climate crisis. The statistics, however, are jarring. Between 1990-2015, the 63 million people living with the 1% of highest incomes globally emitted twice the amount of carbon as the 3.1 billion people living in the bottom 50% of global incomes.All these statistics are shocking, but it makes the climate crisis seem a bit far away and unapproachable. Doing further research, I found a large source of local pollution is something I have passed by a million times without even realizing what it was: the BRESCO trash incinerator.

Every time I drive into Baltimore City from my home further to the south in the DC suburbs, I see a big smokestack that has the city’s name boldly painted on it. It always makes me strangely happy, like it is welcoming me, an unfortunate suburbanite, into the city. But that was before I knew it was Baltimore City’s biggest source of pollution, putting 653,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the air each year! This is especially jarring when one considers the fact that 150,000 people live within four miles of the incinerator. The incinerator was originally known as Baltimore Refuse Energy Systems, Co., and now just known as BRESCO. Many people in Baltimore have been protesting this incinerator, but even if the city stopped sending BRESCO its trash, three neighboring counties and private enterprises would still be able to send trash to the incinerator. There is a limited amount of pollution-controlling equipment that can be added to the incinerator, due to its age(it was built in 1985) and its physical structure. The incinerator released up to 4x more greenhouse gasses than coal-fired power plants. It realizes nitrogen oxide, sulfur oxides, lead, mercury, and other pollutants that cause health problems such as asthma.

It might seem daunting to do something to address the climate crisis after reading all these statistics. But hopefully if we do our part to keep the planet healthy for everyone, as well as advocate for the poorest and most marginalized among us, we can all make a difference.


For more of our posts on the environment, see: 

How Caring for the Earth Fits into the Consistent Life Ethic

The Dangers of Climate Change for the Pregnant and Pre-born

Stewardship and the Consistent Life Ethic

Climate Change and the Consistent Life Ethic: An Opportunity to Connect Issues

Wangari Maathai, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

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