If you’re black, you probably have heard the joke about how crowds of us draw heat; about how too many of us in one space can cause enough swelter to induce suffocation.
That’s still self-deprecating silliness.
But this recent heat wave – one that scientists say offer a glimpse of what global warming might look like – reminded me that while black people’s capacity to generate heat is laughable, climate change is not.
What’s also serious is the fact that scores of black people are living in communities that are particularly vulnerable to climate change; to the heat that hits asphalt-filled inner-cities especially hard, to the asthma that kicks in when greenhouse gases kick up ozone levels, and to the heat-related illnesses that many black people will suffer because they can’t afford to keep the air conditioning on too long – if they have air conditioning at all.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, this past winter was the fourth warmest on record in the United States. Spring was the warmest since 1895.
This is likely being caused by increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
And the effects of climate change, like many other things, are bound to be white people’s cold and black people’s pneumonia.
According to a report released in May by the Joint Centers for Political and Economic Studies, one in which researchers at the Texas Health Institute studied communities of color in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Arizona and New Mexico, more and more evidence suggests that people living in such communities may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of hurricanes, droughts and oppressive heat.
“Specifically these individuals and their communities – due to socioeconomic status, geography, racial and ethnic health disparities and lack of access to care – are likely to face greater susceptibility from such events, “ the report reads.
“Almost one in five adults across the region self-reports his or her health status as poor…poor health status, obesity, uninsurance and a low rate of primary care providers may further disadvantage populations during or after extreme weather events or in the face of environmental challenges.
“Additionally, effects related to climate, such as extreme heat, may exacerbate pre-existing conditions already prevalent in a community.”
Like the kind we’re having right now on the East Coast and in the six states in the Joint Center’s study.
Like the kind that could cause the asthma that many black people already suffer from to go off the charts; the kind that could lead to hurricanes and extreme weather that many of us – as evidenced when Katrina devastated New Orleans nearly eight years ago – don’t have the resources or the health to escape from.
What’s more is that Louisiana, like Texas and Oklahoma, has done virtually nothing to address the impact of climate change. That’s probably because they’re run by Republicans, a party now run by ignoramuses who believe climate change is a liberal conspiracy, and by corporations who don’t want to be told how many greenhouse gases they can spew into the air.
Which is why, if nothing else, the Joint Center’s study, as well as this horrific heat wave, shows that black people should begin to see this as an issue that isn’t just about tree-hugging, but about our quality of life.
We should see it as such – especially since many of the climate change deniers, people like Rush Limbaugh and the Koch Brothers – are people who live far away from industrial areas where greenhouse gas emissions are heaviest. Also, unlike Katrina’s victims, they also can escape easily when there’s a hurricane or extreme weather.
Most of us know that our propensity to draw heat is a joke. But we can’t let right-wing craziness and self-interest force us to see climate change as one.
Particularly since we’re the ones who are most likely to die laughing from it.
Tonyaa Weathersbee is an award-winning columnist based in Jacksonville, Fla. Follow her on tonyaajw@twitter.