• showmestate2020

Impact of Climate Change on Minority Communities and Healthcare

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

With a global pandemic, economic recession, and an increase in protests for 

equality and racial justice happening simultaneously, it seems that climate change 

has been put on the backburner. However, this issue is still an environmental crisis 

and must be treated as such. Over the past few decades, climate change has 

resulted in more intense and frequent extreme weather events, flooding and sea 

level rise, changing precipitation patterns, and temperature extremes that impact 

sectors ranging from agriculture to buildings and infrastructure to even the 

healthcare system. 


Water scarcity can result in drought and famine; floods contaminate fresh water 

supplies and heighten the risk of water borne diseases; extreme heat raises levels 

of pollutants that exacerbate cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. As depicted 

in the graphic, climate change not only affects human health in a myriad of ways, 

but also impairs the ability of healthcare professionals to meet patient needs. For 

instance, in 2017, Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria killed 200 Americans and 

left millions struggling to access hospitals, medical care, potable water, and power. Such disasters adversely impact healthcare infrastructure, transportation, and 

communications systems, potentially leading to shortages of essential 

pharmaceuticals and medical devices. 

In order to combat these climate change impacts and make medical care more 

accessible, the healthcare system must take strides to lower their carbon footprint. 

The sector produces 10% of the U.S’s total greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to 

the 200,000 premature deaths associated with air pollution each year. Hospitals 

are among the most energy intensive buildings in the country, and by becoming 

more energy efficient and resiliently built, health professionals will be further 

contributing to better health for people and the planet. 


The people that are hardest hit by the climate crisis, however, are minority 

communities. According to a study conducted by members of the Yale program on 

climate change communication, Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans were 

found to be more concerned about climate change than whites, who were more 

likely to be doubtful or dismissive about the issue. It’s not hard to see why 

minority communities would take the climate crisis seriously: a 2017 report by 

the NAACP and the Clean Air Task Force determined that they are 75% more likely 

than other Americans to live near oil and gas refineries, making them more 

susceptible to industrial hazards and exposed to other health concerns like air 

pollution. On top of that, they are also more likely to live in areas that have higher 

incidences of diseases or are vulnerable to climate impacts such as flooding. In 

2005, Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the most devastated areas were 

disproportionately non-white; African Americans and other minority groups 

made up 50% of those whose neighborhoods were flooded despite making up less 

than half of the metropolitan population. These statistics give evidence for the 

climate injustice and higher than average health risks that minority groups face, 

communities of people who already have to fight harder and longer to be heard 

by policy makers and the public. 


There is no doubting that environmental racism and climate injustice against 

minority groups such as Hispanics/Latinos and African Americans must be 

recognized. Their voices can no longer be ignored or marginalized. It is 

increasingly becoming clear that climate change is not just an environmental 

crisis, but also a human rights issue. All people, regardless of race or class, have the 

right to equal protection against climate change, and equal access to clean air and 

drinkable water. 

Sources:

  • https://minorityrights.org/wp-content/uploads/old-site-downloads/download- 

  • 524-The-Impact-of-Climate-Change-on-Minorities-and-Indigenous-Peoples.pdf

  • https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/race-and-climate-change/

  • https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2018/be-high-performing-us-health-system-will-need-adapt-climate-change

  • https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm

  • http://news.mit.edu/2013/study-air-pollution-causes-200000-early-deaths-ea 

  • ch-year-in-the-us-0829

  • http://www.catf.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/CATF_Pub_FumesAcrossTheFe 

  • nceLine.pdf

  • https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health

  • https://www.greenamerica.org/climate-justice-all/people-color-are-front-lines-climate-crisis











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