By Ahmad Ibsais
Earlier this month, I woke up to the news that a catastrophic hurricane was fast approaching my home in Florida. Living in the southern state for 14 years, I have gotten used to weather emergencies every year.
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However, what I have found difficult to comprehend is why year after year the US government continues to ignore the plight of impoverished communities (mostly people of colour) who suffer disproportionately more during the hurricane season; and why, given the abundant scientific evidence that such weather emergencies are getting worse, there is little action being taken.
I was born in Jerusalem – a city plagued with conflict. It was there that I first experienced how pollution can be a very real threat to human life. It was there that I saw first-hand the suffocating impact that smog, excess carbon emissions, and droughts can have on communities – especially ones that are oppressed, silenced and condemned to poverty.
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When I immigrated to the US, I assumed that things would be different. I assumed that in a country not crippled by a never-ending conflict, a country where all residents are supposedly equal before the law, authorities would do more to stop the environment from turning on them. But I was mistaken.
Just like those who rule over my homeland, the US government ignores the suffering of communities disproportionately affected by climate change.
Researchers say communities of colour are at the front line of the climate crisis, both within the US and elsewhere in the world.
In the US, where racism is sewn into the very fabric of the nation, they are “more likely to have toxic facilities sited near them, less likely to receive adequate protection to prevent disasters, and less likely to get the kind of immediate response White communities get when emergencies occur”. And across the global south, brown and black communities are the first to suffer the consequences of climate change. They are the ones trying to survive one drought after the other and the ones watching their homes getting submerged as ocean levels rise.
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It is no coincidence that people of colour are the ones most affected by climate change the world over. The climate crisis is, after all, the result of a global system of extraction, dispossession and oppression. While many of us, young people, see this clearly, many people of the older generations do not or choose not to. Many of them are in denial about the urgency of the situation.
At the recent climate debates between candidates for the Democratic nomination for next year’s presidential election, plans were discussed to reduce carbon emissions by 2025, 2030, and 2050. It was clear that many of the candidates do not understand that we need a drastic overhaul of the way we live and consume now in order to preclude climate disaster. Introducing weak plans for curbing emissions is simply not enough. Our planet is bleeding, and it needs surgery, not a band-aid if we intend to make it to 2050.
Unimpressed with political sound bites, with politicians merely gloss over climate justice topics, I and young people like me across the world are refusing to settle for anything less than transformational change.
Understanding climate justice and getting into activism was a slow process for me; I too was once used to plastic straws and disposable cups. But as I came to learn more about the danger that the plan is facing and how this is and will be affecting my life, I decided that I couldn’t wait on others to do what I should be doing.
I decided to join climate action at the age of 17 and sought to associate myself with other like-minded young people. Now a year later, I am a member of the youth organisation Zero Hour, which was started and run by women of colour, and which I am helping mobilise students in Gainesville, Florida.
On September 20, we are joining the youth from around the world to strike against our governments and pressure them to take immediate action to save our planet.
We want a Green New Deal, a declaration of a climate emergency, and a fossil fuel phase-out. We are raising our voices in unison to tell politicians across the world that we are not willing to sacrifice our future and our children’s future to sustain the corrupt system built by previous generations.
We have little time to stop the worst effects of climate change, so we need to take immediate action. The older generations are failing our planet. It is time we, the young people, take over.
Ahmad Ibsais is a Public Affairs Analyst.