Black and Indigenous voices often missing from climate change discussions

Climate change may be considered by many to be the most pressing issue in the world right now. But for people in Nova Scotia's black and Indigenous communities too busy dealing with issues of poverty and racism, it's often way down the list.

Now a push is on to reach out to those marginalized groups, many of whom have historically lived in areas without good public infrastructure, potentially making them that much more vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet.

"These are communities that have less access to political resources, economic resources that would enable them to come back from climate change impacts and survive the impacts of climate change," said Ingrid Waldron, an associate professor in Dalhousie University's school of nursing in Halifax.

Halifax-area officials note a number of concrete issues. Black communities like North Preston, East Preston and Cherry Brook, for instance, are on the "urban wildlands interface" — populated areas bordering forest zones.

"We know that with increasing dry periods, over time, as a result of climate change … that will create an environment where forest fires could be," said Alex MacDonald, a former climate change specialist with the Halifax Regional Municipality who leads the Halifax 2050 Acting On Climate Change Together Project.

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While the HalifACT 2050 group has heard during meetings with black community groups that climate change "in itself isn't a priority," MacDonald said, threads of related issues have come to light during those conversations. Those include food security, and the cost of power and transportation.

Bryan Maponga, a climate change intern with the municipality's energy and environment department, said people in Nova Scotia's black communities are aware that climate change is one of the biggest issues the planet faces.

"I think it all boils down to the fact that every single day you are affected by climate change in one way or another," said Maponga, who is from Zimbabwe.

"It might not be you are going through a hurricane every single day, but the things such as energy poverty … things such as how expensive is our energy production going to be for the general public."

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In September, the Bahamas was devastated when Hurricane Dorian struck. The Category 5 hurricane ripped off roofs, overturned cars and tore down power lines. As of last month, the death toll was 61, with hundreds more people listed as missing.

Chaz Garraway, a Bahamian student in his third year of engineering studies at Dalhousie University, recently did a climate change presentation at the United Nations headquarters in New York.

His focus in such discussions is generally environmental racism, climate refugees and how climate change affects minorities.

"So with climate change it's usually minorities and the poorest people that are affected the worst because their communities are usually, in the case of environmental racism, placed near places like natural gas plants or dumps, so they experience health problems more than other parts of the community," Garraway said.

"And another way that they're affected is that their communities aren't as protected and they don't have as good infrastructure to protect against some of the effects of climate change, like severe weather and storm surge."

At the end of the day, Garraway said, education is the most important thing to show people that they can actually be part of the solution.

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While it's important for Nova Scotia to continue to discuss the facts-based science, Waldron said, what's often missing are the ways in which climate change is experienced uniquely in different communities.

"We also need to know how it's felt on the ground … by those who are most vulnerable," she said.