Politics & Policy

Environmentalist: Ferguson Happened Because of Climate Change

The Long Hot Summer in Ferguson, Mo.
Fahrenheit 80.3: the temperature at which civilization catches fire, and burns.

According to a top environmentalist organizer, climate change is responsible for this summer’s violence in Ferguson, Mo.

“To me, the connection between militarized state violence, racism, and climate change was common-sense and intuitive,” 350.org Strategic Partnership Coordinator Deirdre Smith wrote.

“Oppression and extreme weather combine to ‘incite’ militarized violence,” she continued. Weeks of rioting followed the killing on August 9 of 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson. Observers around the nation criticized the police for a heavy-handed response to protests in the town, but while the rioting received international attention, it did not result in any loss of life.

Smith explained that not only do poor minority communities have fewer resources to deal with the impacts of climate change, but “people of color also disproportionately live in climate-vulnerable areas,” which makes climate change a race issue.

Her argument is rooted in the doctrine of “environmental justice,” sometimes called “environmental racism,” which is recognized by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA defines environmental justice as the “fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies,” according to its website.

The EPA recognizes environmental justice as a civil-rights issue under Title VI, which means that power plants or excessive car exhaust can be considered civil-rights violations — if they occur in poor and minority neighborhoods, that is.

350 is just one of many environmentalist groups that will participate in the People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday, which aims to strengthen these kinds of policies.

According to the National Weather Service, the St. Louis area was not notably warmer this summer than it has ever been. At 80.3 degrees Fahrenheit, this August’s average temperature in the Gateway to the West was only the seventh-warmest of the last 20 years, substantially cooler than the two-decade high of 83.9 degrees in August 1995.

— Katherine Timpf is a reporter at National Review Online.

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