Media often addresses 2020 as an all-around awful year: wildfires in Australia, the COVID-19 pandemic, police brutality, and more wildfires along western North America. While it’s devastating these events have all happened within a year, none of these issues began this year. People caused them and are allowing them to continue and grow worse. Don’t let 2020 become a scapegoat for racial injustice and natural disasters. There are many resources, specifically for climate change, on how to fight its continuation.
The wildfires in California and other Western states aren’t just bad luck. Climate change increases droughts and dryness due to rising temperatures in the poles. NASA found that this decrease in the difference of temperature between the poles and equator creates fewer overall storms but leaves the ones still existing to have a much greater intensity. This makes rainfall come in huge amounts less frequently, increasing the intensity of flood and drought seasons. Wildfires are becoming more likely all across the world, not just western North America.
A study found that fire suppression has increased flammable fuel wood. Indigenous peoples practiced controlled fires to minimize wildfire damage, but this stopped when Europeans came to their land. Now that these practices are no longer at play, the destruction has become massive.
Climate change doesn’t just affect wildfires; it also impacts hurricanes and many other natural disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration states that 2020 is a record-breaking hurricane year.
While the climate crisis affects everyone somehow, its impacts are disproportionately stronger for indigenous populations, communities of color, and lower-income communities. Many indigenous peoples have an especially strong connection to the environment, meaning their habits and lifestyles are completely shifted by these changes. Communities of color and lower income communities are also more likely to suffer from extreme weather conditions due to spending a large proportion of their income on basic necessities like food, water, and energy, all of which grow more expensive during a climate crisis.
A study at the University of California found that cities and major companies also often build factories that release air pollutants in areas with more people of color, massively decreasing the air quality. Additionally, they found that the majority of jobs that are most affected by a climate crisis, such as agriculture and tourism, are held by low-income people of color.
These groups are disproportionately impacted, and on top of that, receive less assistance from the government and have less influence over its policies about climate change. According to a 2016 Center for American Progress analysis, 9.5 million American adults, mostly people of color, lacked voting rights. With less representation and attention given to these communities, climate change’s impact only grows worse. When advocating for policy change for the environment, it’s often ignored that these communities suffer more than white and wealthy ones.
When thinking of how disastrous 2020 has been, don’t let the environmental issues from this year be portrayed as isolated events. They are directly correlated with climate change and the increasing need to pay attention to it. Climate change doesn’t stop at the end of 2020; its effects will carry over into 2021 and beyond.
Realizing the increasing rate of wildfires is evidence of climate change’s long-term presence isn’t just a necessary step in tackling climate change, but it’s also to discontinue any other excuses for natural disasters. The environmental crisis can be seen everywhere, so start seeing it within the larger context of climate change rather than just 2020.
There’s so many causes for justice to pay attention to right now, so be sure to make the climate one of them. Attend environmental walkouts, volunteer for climate organizations led by youth, like Zero Hour and Earth Guardians, and advocate for funds during these crises. Get inspired by other teen activists who have made platforms for themselves to educate and involve Generation Z.
14 year-old Alexandria Villaseñor skips school every Friday to individually protest outside of the United Nations complex. 16 year-old Isra Hirsi, daughter of Minnesota U.S. representative Ilhan Omar, co-founded the U.S. Youth Climate Strike and is helping organize a debate to educate of-age voters on the presidential candidate’s views on climate change. 19 year-old Xiuhtezcatl Martinez is the director of Earth Guardians, has addressed the U.N. general assembly, and received the 2013 Community Service Award from Barack Obama. There are many other individuals and organizations in the youth community to learn from.
Climate change won’t go away when 2020 ends. This year isn’t the cause of these disasters, humans are and have the ability to turn it around. No matter how small, find a way to fight for the environment and its disproportionate effects on low-income, indigenous populations, and communities of color. There are so many resources to get education and to get involved with, so find a way to make a personal impact for our climate.
This editorial was originally published in the Sept. 29 issue of The Rubicon.