If you thought Hurricane Katrina was a once-in-a-lifetime fluke, think again. Concerned environmentalists say that unless the United States gets real about the threat of global warming, African Americans and other people of color can expect a repeat of disasters like Katrina.
That’s bad news, especially for African Americans. Citing Katrina as a case-in-point, some environmentalists say global warming impacts minorities and the disadvantaged harder than other groups. If global warming gets worse, many African-American communities will be more vulnerable to breathing ailments, insect-carried diseases and heat-related illness and death. But asking Black folks to give up gas-guzzling SUV’s and other bling is a tough sell.
Relatively, Blacks are environmental Good Samaritans. Per capita, we emit approximately 20 percent less carbon dioxide than Whites—well below 2020 targets set by the U.S. Climate Stewardship Act. Not only do we use more energy-conserving public transportation, we spend considerably less per capita on energy-intensive material goods.
Yet Blacks are exposed to worse air pollution than Whites in every major metropolitan area. Some charge that the Bush administration has made matters worse by creating new policies, like the Clear Skies Act and the Healthy Forest Initiative, that allow utilities and industries to pollute more. President Bush enraged environmentalists when he opted out of the Kyoto protocol global warming treaty, saying it would harm the U.S. economy.
Critics say the result of these policies could be catastrophic. “By mid-century, we’re looking at the entire Antarctic ice shelf melting,” Miller says. “That could send warmer water throughout . . . which will have a freezing effect in the Northern European countries. We’re already looking at a number of low-lying areas being completely submerged by sea-level rise. It’s kind of scary.”