Why Addressing Climate Change is Critical to Addressing Poverty

By Priya Pandey and Kayla Tawa

Climate change is disproportionately harming people with low incomes and people of color. As an antipoverty organization that centers racial equity, CLASP recognizes the important ways in which climate change impacts the people and policies we advocate for. That’s why, on the occasion of Earth Day 2022, we are offering an environmental justice blog series exploring the intersection of environmental justice and economic security for people living with low incomes. We recognize that economic security and climate security are intrinsically linked.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll be releasing a series of blogs focused on the ways in which climate change is impacting the policies we work on, from immigration to housing to job quality to the youth mental health crisis. Here are four ways we will be exploring the link between climate and economic justice:

1. Racist redlining and segregation policies caused environmental hazards to be located primarily in neighborhoods of color. In all, Black people breathe in 56 percent more pollution than they generate, while white people breathe 17 percent less pollution than they generate. Communities of color and people with low incomes shoulder a disproportionate burden of environmental hazards and experience adverse health outcomes, economic opportunities, and overall safety as a result. Restitutive housing, health, and labor policies can help address these inequities.

2. Immigrant families, children, and workers are weathering the impact of climate change without adequate protections or remedies to reduce the harm. Pollution and poor environmental practices also heavily impact immigrant families within the United States, causing serious long-term health effects for children and adults. Immigrant families are at an even greater risk as exclusionary health care policies, making it difficult to seek treatment or assistance to address the harm of environmental hazards. Immigrant workers are overrepresented in essential fields, including the agricultural and meatpacking industries that frequently have few or no labor protections.

3. Climate change will have disastrous implications for workers who will suffer harsh consequences under our current unsustainable system. Responding to climate change presents the opportunity to usher in a sustainable society with green jobs offering family-sustaining wages and increased workplace health/safety protections. Collective bargaining can protect workers from harmful workplace conditions and be used as a tool of environmental justice to advance cleaner, safer, and more sustainable workplace operations. Additionally, a green economy can address our nation’s abysmal racial wealth gap.

4. Young people—who frequently lead the movements for environmental justice—are disproportionately impacted by and concerned about climate change. Climate change is adversely affecting both the physical and mental health of young people, with one recent study showing 90 percent of surveyed U.S. young people experiencing climate anxiety. Young people have already been in the midst of a mental health crisis, which has been made worse by climate change and government inaction.

We know that economic security depends on advancing environmental justice, which is why CLASP is exploring this topic across the breadth of the issues we address. Improving the lives of communities that have been marginalized is essential to minimize the harm that the climate crisis poses to these communities. Follow our series on this page as CLASP staff dive deeper into the impact of the climate crisis.