Climate Inequality & the Politics of Climate Change
NC Warn is a non-profit organization located in the Piedmont region, fighting for overall climate justice and North Carolina’s transition to clean power. The organization informs and involves the public in their decisions regarding tackling the climate crisis head-on. A major project of NC Warn is combatting Duke Energy, one of the world’s largest corporate electric utilities and one of its biggest polluters.
I spoke with Madeline Parker, a youth climate justice organizer with NC Warn who works on improving youth engagement and outreach for the organization. I spoke with her about her opinions on climate changes in the Piedmont region and the impact of COVID-19 on NC Warn and her community.
The North Carolina health news report says climate change will affect the state’s agriculture, economy, residents’ health, the environment, tourism, transportation, public safety, water resources, and housing, which will disproportionately impact the poor.
Inequality is most prevalent among those with privilege when there is a crisis. COVID-19 restrictions are forcing North Carolina families to be home and these environmentally impacted communities are suffering even more than usual because of these restrictions that are meant to protect people from getting COVID. According to the US Conservation Network, “A 2014 US EPA analysis found that people of color in North Carolina are more likely than whites to live within a mile of a facility that releases toxic pollution into the local environment.”
“COVID-19 is especially scary for the most environmentally impacted communities in our state which already suffer from higher rates of asthma and cancer due to toxic facilities being placed near where people live,” says Madeline.
COVID continues to harm the poor, as well as those fighting to help lessen the impacts of climate change on the community. We’ve all had to adapt to working from home during COVID and working with NC Warn during this pandemic has proven its challenges.
“Not being able to meet in person to convene, strategize, and hold space for each other while we do this emotionally intensive work has been very difficult,” says Madeline.
Piedmont is undoubtedly facing multiple climate change issues, but Madeline believes that one of the most pressing climate issues is the worsening storms and hurricanes that bring secondary impacts such as flooding. NC State researchers have found that the number of storms in the hurricane season in NC has been around 11 between 1951-2019. Now, the predicted average for the season is between 18-22, with the possibility of 3-5 becoming major hurricanes.
“Some areas of Eastern NC have barely been able to recover from a prior year’s hurricane before being ravaged by another one, and this is on top of other environmental justice problems that this part of the state has to deal with,” says Madeline.
I grew up near Apex, NC and I remember one major hurricane that hit my hometown pretty hard around 2012. I remember hiding in the small bathroom in the middle of my house away from the windows. The wind was so strong that our house wouldn’t stop creaking loudly. The rain was loud and relentless and we lost power for hours across the city. Going back to school the next week, I heard about people’s roofs being ripped off of their homes and trees falling onto others. Living in a middle-class neighborhood, I was confident that our power would be restored pretty quickly, and if some real damage was done to our home, we would be able to get it fixed. This is not true for every family because of the inequality in our communities. Climate changes impact us all differently because of these inequalities.
Another issue she points out is the continued use of fossil fuels for electricity generation. NC Warn is currently working on a few projects including the NC Climate Emergency Plan, which calls for Governor Cooper to stop Duke Energy’s Gas Pipeline and Power Plants, which is crucial for the climate of all of North Carolina. The organization is also working on the Clean Path 2025 Project, which will save NC billions, create thousands of jobs, and replace all fossil fuel power rapidly with clean energy, battery storage, and energy-saving programs.
“Renewable sources like solar and battery storage are continually becoming more affordable and reliable, and it is by prioritizing investment in renewables that we can forage the path forward to a clean energy future where there is no place for dirty fossil fuels.”
The reason why many of these climate issues haven’t been addressed is due to politics. Our environment has become so politicized that we can’t make changes due to the personal interests of politicians who want to be elected or re-elected. This is why young people need to vote in their local elections.
Madeline encourages college students to get involved with NC Warn and Climate change work in general, by educating yourself on the issues, getting involved with community efforts that prioritize frontline communities and impacted voices, raising awareness on your college campuses, and voting in local and statewide elections for those who prioritize climate justice and the health of our communities over profits.