Defining the Climate Continuum in the Context of Cyclical Black Displacement 

From the Trans-Atlantic human trafficking massacre to the impacts of the current climate crisis, a consistent thread in the story of Black people in America is displacement and forced migration. These are not disparate incidents but directly interconnected actions rooted in systemic racism.  

In the same way as we view the inextricable historic underpinnings of the plight of Black Americans, we must see the systemic roots of climate change through the same lens as a continuum from the drivers of climate change to the impacts being experienced today. 

As such, a review of the relationship between displacement/migration and climate change includes the abuse of the environment that also harms Black communities and encompasses the disproportionate impacts on Black communities when the earth fights back, as manifested through catastrophic climate change. 

Pollution is a direct driver of both climate change and Black displacement.

Greenhouse gas emissions, driven by energy production and manufacturing industries that are more concerned about profits than people and planet, are responsible for the climate crisis. At last count, 71% of Black Americans lived in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards and an African American family with household earnings of $50,000 was more likely to live next to a toxic facility than a white American family with earnings of $15,000. As a result, Black Americans are more likely to breathe contaminated air, live on toxic soil, drink poisoned water, and be displaced from unlivable conditions. 

  1. Mossville, Louisiana is located in the area that has come to be known as “Cancer Alley”. Over many years, Mossville has been inundated with industrial activity and its accompanying extreme pollution. This has resulted in cancer of epidemic proportions and eventually, a buyout of this community, at a egregiously unfair rate for the Black residents, and the creation of a “ghost town”.
  1. Historic soil contamination spanning decades in East Chicago, Indiana resulted in the forced relocation of over 1200 people after the soil in the community found to have lead levels upwards of 30x allowable levels and the blood tests of 31% of the children in the community revealed concerning levels of lead. 
  1. After the poisoning of the Flint, Michigan river by manufacturing industries and the subsequent poisoning of the Flint water supply, the city’s population has dropped 21% and reached its lowest point in more than 100 years, according to the results of the 2020 U.S. Census. 

Read the full article about climate migration and Black displacement by Jacqueline Patterson at the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.