‘You Will See Who Gets the Lifeboats’: Injustice on the Frontlines of the Climate Crisis in the US

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The climate crisis is fundamentally a human rights crisis. Changes in climate will have different effects on different groups of people according to existing vulnerabilities. The socioeconomic impacts of global heating will be nonlinear and are likely to have knock-on effects as physical hazards reach tipping points beyond which physiological, human-made, and ecological systems break down. The climate crisis will therefore not only act upon global inequalities – it will also exacerbate them, creating a vicious cycle where low-income and marginalized communities will be rendered increasingly vulnerable by global heating.

In the US, vulnerability to global heating intersects with a matrix of systemic injustices: income
inequality, racism, immigration status, gender, rural underdevelopment, and a history of genocide of Native peoples. Studies have found that people of color across all regions and income levels in the US are systemically exposed to disproportionately higher levels of ambient air pollution. Domestic climate action to urgently reduce emissions and adapt to the effects of global heating must also address these issues of justice, or they will fail to protect the American communities on the frontline of the climate crisis.

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