by Hodan Hassan and Sean O’Neill
Between a record high heat wave and a looming haze of smoke over the city (that’s traveled from wildfires in British Columbia), Seattle is currently experiencing some of our most oppressive weather in our city’s history. As the fallacies of climate denial, individual green consumerism, and carbon market solutions take center stage, Got Green has been amplifying the importance of naming the roots of our extreme weather.
The heat and the haze aren’t simply natural occurrences, but rather directly the result of climate change and an economy of extraction. Our friends at Movement Generation created a framework for understanding our extractive economy as a cycle of dig-burn-dump — dig up energy resources (such as oil and coal), burn it (from cars and blue angels), and dump the waste (into water, the atmosphere, and the lungs of children). It’s important to remember that the United States would not have become an industrial superpower if it were not for chattel slavery, genocide, and colonization.
The dominant economy extracts fossil fuels, labor, and land by any means necessary in an effort to consolidate power and wealth, sacrificing many communities at each step. After generations of putting carbon into atmosphere at a mass scale, one of the major results is extreme weather — hurricanes, typhoons, and floods, as well as heat waves, drought, and dry spells (which increase the chances of wildfires).
In Seattle, the heat and the haze will continue to most intensely impact vulnerable communities — children, elders, people that are pregnant, and people with asthma and diabetes. Relative to white communities, communities of color disproportionately have asthma and diabetes, and are less likely to have access to healthcare. Neighborhoods that have the highest concentration of people of color, also have the highest levels of pollution and the lowest number of accessible cooling centers. It’s notable that the vast majority of Seattleites don’t have air conditioning in our homes and many don’t in our work places.
Additionally, climate change is a threat multiplier, meaning that the inequities communities already face are exacerbated in the context of a changing climate. For example, following Hurricane Katrina, displacement was dramatically expanded (due state-sanctioned land speculation) and economic vulnerability was met with police militarization. Climate related land grabs and militarization aren’t just the acts done by bad apples but are increasingly calculated decisions made locally and internationally by opportunistic corporations and politicians.
There is a lot we can do to dig at the roots of the climate crisis, this ranges from demanding that Puget Sound Energy (PSE) stop their plans to build a liquefied natural gas plant on Puyallup territory as well as throwing down to making polluting industries pay in WA state. Our efforts to interrupt the system are one side of the coin, we also need to build community-owned energy and economic infrastructure to be resilient and powerful in the face of climate change.
One small step is sharing resources to stay cool and safe — for example, this list of cooling centers put together by the City of Seattle as well as this comic about staying safe in the heat by King County Public Health.
Building climate resilience communities means centering the needs of communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In Seattle, this is working-class families and communities of color in the South end. For us at Got Green, climate resilient communities means investing in fair jobs that nourish the earth and our communities, affordable healthy food that is grown with dignity for workers, and safe and sustainable housing for all.
Hodan Hassan is the Climate Justice Organizer at Got Green
Sean O’Neill is the Development Director at Got Green
Got Green organizes for environmental, racial, and economic justice as a South Seattle-based grassroots organization led by people of color and low income people.
Featured image is a cc licensed photo attributed to Open Minder