Climate change is a topic that often comes up in the news, from headlines about the most recent wildfire to opinion articles about a tax on carbon emissions meant to decrease pollution. Climate change is responsible for a wide variety of changes going on around the globe, from rising sea levels and ocean acidification to an increase in drought, natural disasters, and even an increase in some diseases like malaria carried by mosquitos with expanding habitats (for more information about the effects of climate change, check out NASA’s website on climate change). But even with climate change being a popular topic in the news and in everyday conversation, the intersection between climate change and further marginalization of struggling communities is discussed with much less frequency. Groups of people who are already marginalized, like disabled individuals, LGBTQIA+ people, and communities of color face significantly more negative effects as a result of climate change than the general population, and this will only increase in the coming decades unless something changes.
In some ways, it is very explicit how climate change will impact some groups more significantly, like for people with disabilities. In daily life, those with disabilities and significant underlying health conditions are more likely to develop asthma, pneumonia, and even lose their sight as a complication from increased exposure to pollution. In the event of a natural disaster like a flood or wildfire, those with disabilities are less likely to be able to successfully evacuate and find resources, from leaving an apartment with the elevator turned off to navigating long term evacuations without access to necessary medical supplies (for more in depth examples of how disabled communities are negatively impacted by climate change, check out this article from the UN Environment Programme). Looking at both long term effects on health and immediate needs during a natural disaster made more likely by climate change, disabled people face many additional challenges and negative outcomes.
People with disabilities aren’t the only marginalized groups that are facing unequal outcomes from climate change. The LGTBQIA+ community is also being disproportionately negatively impacted, although in less immediately apparent ways. For example, due to preexisting discrimination against LGBTQIA+ people, the Human Rights Campaign found that despite LGBTQIA+ people making up 5-10% of youth, they make up approximately 40% of homeless youth. Those who are homeless are more strongly impacted by heat waves, below freezing temperatures, tornadoes, floods, and other weather events that are more likely due to climate change. And when queer people, and particularly trans women, seek resources in emergency shelters, they are significantly more likely to be turned away or denied resources due to their identities (for more information, check out this article). Through both longstanding and more immediate discrimination, LGBTQIA+ people are less likely to have access to invaluable resources to respond to climate change.
Race is another factor that impacts the effects felt of climate change, with marginalized races feeling more negative effects than white Americans. Like LGBTQIA+ communities, many of these negative effects come from previously established discrimination. For example, due to longstanding redlining of neighborhoods and income inequality for people of color, Black communities are significantly more likely to live in neighborhoods with less high oxygen producing trees and more heat absorbing pavement, and closer to polluting factories and hazardous waste sites which leads to an increased risk for asthma and heart conditions. Due to discrimination in insurance and relief efforts, predominantly nonwhite communities are more likely to lose personal wealth as a result of a natural disaster. And for many coastal Indigenous communities, ocean acidification and rising sea levels are jeopardizing their diets and fishing-based economy. (For more information, check out this article from the American Assocation for the Advancement of Science, and this guide from the American Public Health Association.) Largely through systems of discrimination already in place, people of color are seeing exacerbated inequality.
Climate change is affecting almost all communities around the world, but there is no doubt that already marginalized communities are facing additional repercussions. Because of these impacts, it’s no surprise there has been an increase in climate fiction, or Cli-Fi, in the last few decades and especially the last few years, particularly from marginalized perspectives. Early examples include titles like Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler, which follows a young Black woman in a post-apocalyptic near future where marginalized races are more likely to be homeless, ill, or forced into debt slavery in order to survive the harsh realities of climate change. The genre has taken off in recent years, leading to titles like Blackfish City by Sam Miller, which follows four different characters through explorations of queer identity, pushback against exploitative labor structures, and a government dismissive of an AIDS-like epidemic in a post-apocalyptic floating city in the Arctic. Another product of the rise in Cli-Fi is The Swan Book from author Alexis Wright, which examines Indigenous lives in Australia after the government places Indigenous populations in swamp-filled internment camps destroyed by climate change. These books reflect the increase in speculation about what the world will look like as climate change continues to reshape global populations and resources, including how these impacts will disproportionately affect marginalized communities. To learn more about the inequities of climate change through fiction, check out this list. Interested in learning more about climate change in a more factual way? Check out some of these nonfiction titles instead.