Black and Latinx Americans were more likely than white Americans to feel climate change is a big issue affecting their communities, according to a new poll from VICE News and the Guardian.
The YouGov poll, which surveyed 1,000 Americans earlier this month, also found that Black and Latinx people said they were more likely to take action against climate change. The findings counter a popular narrative that white people tend to be more concerned about environmental issues.
Black and Latinx people said climate change has affected their local community “a great deal” (19.1 percent, versus 13.9 percent of white respondents).
Mustafa Santiago Ali, vice president of environmental justice, climate, and community revitalization for the National Wildlife Federation, said Black and Latinx communities are “hit first and worst” when it comes to climate-change-related issues.
“We see the power plants in our communities, we see these other polluting facilities that are in our communities, we see the highways in our communities that are a driver of what’s going on. We’ve got the higher asthma rates… we’ve got the cancer clusters,” he said. “When you see all these things that are happening inside your communities, it’s real for you.”
Latinx and Black respondents were more likely to say they felt “extremely capable” of taking action against climate change including lifestyle changes, such as eating less meat and dairy and taking political action, at 23.3 and 11.7 percent, respectively, compared to 8.3 percent of white people.
In terms of who bears responsibility for climate change, Black and Latinx people were most likely to say oil and gas companies are completely responsible—56.8 and 48 percent, compared to 34.4 percent of white respondents. Black and Latinx people were also more likely to say the government isn’t doing enough to hold the oil and gas industry accountable for their role in climate change.
Black, Latinx, and Indigenous peoples have been on the front lines of the fights for water access, against pipelines, and are disproportionately affected when natural disasters hit their communities, Ali said.
“It makes sense that our folks will continue to be the ones who are out there doing the work because we’re literally trying to save our lives. It’s not just an academic exercise.”
Sacoby Wilson, an associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, said young people are also part of other social movements that intersect with climate change, including Black Lives Matter and the Sunrise Movement, comprised of young climate advocates.
“They see their communities struggling with police brutality issues… with not having access to food… with heat waves, not having trees. So it’s the injustices that are connected and they see opportunities and push back, fight back.”
Paul Mohai, a professor of environmental justice at the University of Michigan, previously told VICE News that he found several data sets in the 1980s showing that Black people were more worried about air quality and clean water than white people. But they tended to work more with civil rights groups than national green organizations.
Both Ali and Wilson said governments are responsible for racist policies such as redlining, where Black people and other people of color living in undesirable neighborhoods susceptible to flooding and heat waves were deliberately denied mortgages.
Ali said the two federal infrastructure bills currently in play, including a $1.2 trillion bipartisan bill and a $3.5 trillion Democratic bill, offer an opportunity to correct some of the harms caused by government policies in areas like transportation and housing. However, he said those numbers have already been shrinking. He said any policy, whether on a federal or state level, needs an environmental justice analysis.
Sacoba added that there’s an economic incentive to put those resources in communities that are more at risk or have suffered from environmental issues, including hurricanes, heat waves, fires, and droughts.
“We cannot address climate change without addressing racism. Government policies… are many of the reasons why these people are at risk in the first place. It’s going to take government action to address these problems.”
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