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November 27, 2000
CONTACT: Ansje Miller or Charles Fulwood, (510) 444-3041

Climate Change to Hit Low-Income, Minority Communities Hardest:
Groups Urge Action to Protect Those Most Vulnerable to Global Warming

OAKLAND, November 27 -- People of color communities and those living in poverty will suffer the most from climate change, environmental justice leaders and Redefining Progress told an audience of international negotiators, NGOs and press at the sixth international conference on global warming in The Hague last week. They urged U.S. negotiators to protect the health and quality of life of these already-vulnerable Americans as a top priority in global climate change policy.

"Buried beneath the headlines on global warming is this harsh reality - the heat deaths, infectious diseases, respiratory illnesses and economic dislocations that result will harm low-income people and communities of color the most," Joanne Kliejunas, executive director of Redefining Progress, told the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Forum.

"Climate change policies must address the uneven impact of floods, droughts, violent storms and disease outbreaks between countries. They must also mitigate the uneven impact within countries," Kliejunas said. "Within the U.S., the poor and people of color already suffer the most from the growing economic inequality in America. Policy makers must not impose additional regressive financial burdens on them."

Ruben Solis of the Southwest Network for Environmental and Economic Justice said, "People of color in the U.S. suffer from environmental racism and economic extortion because their job opportunities are often limited to industries that contaminate communities and emit greenhouse gasses. To protect their health, improve their environment, and expand economic opportunity, they must sit at the decision-making table alongside government and industry"

Robert D. Bullard, director of Clark University's Environmental Justice Resource Center, noted that "People of color bear greater health and environmental risks than society at large because they are more likely to be exposed to workplace hazards, chemical plant pollution, landfills, incinerators, abandoned toxic waste dumps, lead smelters, and emissions from clogged freeways. Any global warming solution must start first by cleaning up the environment in low-income communities."

Changing climate patterns will have significant impacts upon indigenous peoples. Shelley Means representing the Minnesota-based Indigenous Environmental Network said, "A warming climate melts the snowpack that keeps the rivers flowing in the Northwest. As the salmon die off, so does the native culture that holds the salmon sacred."

Redefining Progress noted that experts estimate climate change could cause a 90 to 540 percent increase in heat-related deaths. A recent study found that non-whites in St. Louis were twice as likely to die during a heat wave as whites. Global warming will intensify that suffering.

Another likely impact is more water-borne disease and water contamination as a result of flooding from an increased number of hurricanes and other major storms.

Redefining Progress is a non-profit, nonpartisan public policy group working to build vibrant communities that direct economic wealth toward improving all people's lives and preserving nature's vitality.