Ndah Mbawa portrait

Written by Ndah Mbawa

Ndah runs Happier Every Chapter, a literacy service committed to helping schools and families improve diversity awareness and reading attainment through library diversity audits and the provision of diverse, inclusive and representative bestsellers for children. Her passion for decolonising mindsets within the school-to-workplace pipeline and supercharging the will/skill to read is shared by her teenage daughters, Kirsten & Aiyven.

The issue of climate change affects us all regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or socioeconomic status. Be that as it may, it is becoming increasingly clear that certain communities are disproportionately more impacted by the effects of climate change, and that these communities often belong to groups who have historically faced discrimination and marginalization. The intersection of diversity and climate justice is one that cannot be ignored. It must be addressed if the hope to build a sustainable and just future for all is to be realised.

Take the uneven distribution of environmental burdens and benefits as a case in point of how diversity intersects with climate justice. Largely, communities of colour and low-income communities are more likely to live near polluting industries and toxic waste sites, and are therefore more likely to suffer from the health impacts of pollution and environmental degradation. If you don’t believe me, this Princeton University article may convince you. When I watched the critically acclaimed Erin Brokovitch in 2000, I didn’t realise the issue was as severe as Black People being 75% more likely to live in fence line communities than White People in the United States. These same communities are also more likely to experience the devastating effects of climate change, such as flooding, heat waves, and droughts. They are therefore facing a double burden: more likely to be exposed to environmental harms, and more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Coming back to our shores, according to the Environment Agency, households within 20% of the most socially deprived areas in the UK have a greater likelihood of flood risk than households in less deprived areas. The Grenfell tower fire incident of 2017 revealed a deep division between the rich and poor. Had the cladding which the developers used as a case for climate change to reduce the operational energy/emission costs not been flammable, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The tragedy of this community which even though located in one of London’s wealthiest boroughs had become the most unequal place in Britain, exposed the underlining gaping social inequalities in our society as well as poorly informed climate change/justice initiatives and weak control over conditions pertaining to the already constantly degrading state of low-cost renting. This Guardian article put it well when it said, “fire is an inequality issue”. 

Whether in North America, Europe, Australia or Africa, the recognition of traditional knowledge and indigenous perspectives is waning to dire levels. Indigenous communities who have thrived and lived in harmony with the natural environment for thousands of years have developed sophisticated strategies for adapting to changes in the climate. However, today, these communities are often excluded from decision-making processes around climate justice and have little to no voice in shaping policy. Makes you wonder how much education on climate change reaches communities like this in the first place. Surely the Inuit communities in the Greenland or Quebec who are experiencing melting sea ice making hunting and fishing more dangerous and unpredictable wouldn’t mind contributing to initiatives that may affect the future of their natural environment? Maybe we are missing a trick. Maybe by recognizing and valuing traditional knowledge and indigenous perspectives, we can build more sustainable and resilient systems that are better equipped to address the challenges of climate change in those particular places. For the climate justice movement to be inclusive, equitable and authentic, diversity of the key players is critical. Being a global problem, it requires collective action with engagement of a wide range of stakeholders from all impacted communities whether that be the younger generation, women, global majority people and others who have traditionally been excluded from decision-making processes. 

Suffice to say, the intersection of diversity and climate justice is a critical issue that demands our urgent attention and action. The hope of a sustainable and just future for all might be a bit of a struggle to achieve without the due address that this status quo needs. There’s no denying the impact and relentless onslaught of climate change but as a collective we don’t seem ready. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 showed just how much when the low-income communities in New Orleans were disproportionately affected because they lacked the resources to evacuate or rebuild their homes. 

While we carry on with efforts to educate our generation, we mustn’t forget the younger generation who will bear the brunt of our actions and decisions. It is also vital to educate them on climate change and how they can limit its advancement. One excellent way to do this is through books. Have a read of our blog post with some amazing book recommendations to teach children all about climate change in celebration of Earth Day.

If you are an educator looking to improve the literacy outcomes of your pupils especially the lowest attaining 20% or you simply want to diversify your school library collection, then speak to us. Happier Every Chapter works with schools, academies across the UK to improve reading attainment and diversity awareness through diversity audits and monthly boxes/bundles of diverse, inclusive and representative bestsellers with different curriculum aligned themes each month.