Climate Gap: Less than 50% of White Americans are concerned by climate change.
In contrast, more than 50% of African American and more than 70% of Hispanic American populations are concerned about the impact of climate change.
"Like other pockets of environmental and conservation movements, climate change still suffers from the perception, and arguably the reality, that it is a movement led by and designed for the interests of the white, upper-middle class. Many people erroneously believe that interest in environmental issues is dependent on race, education, and class. To the contrary, growing numbers of people of color working in the environmental field and public polling demonstrate that reality often differs from conventional assumptions" - Angela Park
Many climate briefings across the United States consistently feature predominantly male and all-white casts. As a result, people tend to view the movement against climate change as a movement created by and for white, upper middle class.
The reality of the relationship between race and climate change in America is very different. Looking at some data, we see a massive gap in who cares about climate change. The face of people concerned about the effects of climate change on them, and the general public, is very different from the face of people that are highlighted by international media outlets.
You may be surprised by this graph. Why would White Americans possibly care less about climate change than African American and Hispanic Americans?
One plausible explanation is that a larger proportion of White Americans are republicans in comparison to African American and Hispanic Americans. Since republicans are less likely to believe in climate change than democrats, this matter of race could simply be attributed to political association. Is race a non-factor?
The following figure shows shows that even within democrats, a larger percentage of non-whites believe that climate change should be addressed as a "top-priority" issue.
Now that we've established that the race disparity in climate change isn't solely due to differences in political affiliation, lets get into some other factors that affect the relationship between race and climate change.
The first factor, and a rather obvious one is vulnerability to climate change.
The figure below shows that a much larger population of African Americans and Hispanic Americans believe they will be harmed by climate change.
Are these groups justified in being more wary about climate change?
Hispanic Americans may be more attuned to the issue of climate change because a majority of them live in states that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. For example, Florida is already experiencing more intense hurricanes and is exposed to the immediate effects of sea level rise. Similarly, California is experiencing drought and wildfires that are linked to climate change.
Many African-Americans are concerned about exposure to pollution from the use of fossil fuels in vehicles and power plants. This pollution has led to the aggravation of the high rate of asthma in black communities, which is an important health risk that needs to be addressed in conjunction with regulations that will help intensify further anthropogenic climate change.
African Americans and Hispanic Americans are more likely to recognize the danger of climate change and lead their communities in mitigation and adaptation. However, as socioeconomic status and race are linked, the communities most affected by climate change often have the least power in adapting to it. The support of all races and ethnicities will be extremely important as policies on climate change are created and implemented at present and in the future. This is not an issue that a single community can deal with alone.
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Photo used under Creative Commons from Noel Feans