‘Same storm, different boat’ – tackling the unequal impacts of environmental pollution and climate change

Dr. Daphina Misiedjan on Dutch television program Brainwash

We cannot ignore how people of colour, people with low incomes and people with practical education are more exposed and less protected, argues Dr. Daphina Misiedjan.

During her presentation on the Dutch television program Brainwash on 22 August, Dr. Daphina Misiedjan describes how social inequality amplifies the unequal impact of environmental pollution and climate change.

She explains how the place where you were born is determinant for your opportunities in life, including your chances of living a healthy life. Environmental pollution and climate change affects people differently. We might all be in the same storm, but the boats we sit in while we weather the storm differ.

Climate inequality, who pays the bill?

These inequalities exist on multiple levels: globally, within countries and even within cities. Globally we see inequality within the green energy transition. While countries in the global North reduce CO2 emissions by transitioning to renewable energy through solar panels and wind turbines, countries in the global South that supply critical resources for these products suffer from pollution and overexploitation. An example is the Democratic Republic of Congo that supplies cobalt needed for rechargeable batteries. The mining of cobalt causes local pollution and the workers have to extract this raw material under miserable conditions. While in the Netherlands, cobalt is used to store green energy.

Meanwhile, within the Kingdom of the Netherlands we see that the European part of the Kingdom is the biggest polluter, but that the Caribbean part is hit harder and faster by climate change due to its geographic position and limited capacity to mitigate the effects of climate change.

And even within cities we see inequalities. Families with higher education and incomes are often able to better protect themselves against the negative impacts of environmental pollution, for example by purchasing air filters for their homes.

Tackling climate inequality

These differences cannot be ignored. Yet little is done to track which groups are hit harder. If this information is available, it’s not accessible to the people concerned. We can help by paying closer attention to these issues and doing our own research. We can also contribute to civic initiatives and university projects that seek and bundle such information for further research. We can also help through solidarity, and fortunately solidarity is a resource that we can use infinitely.  

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This series of Brainwash Talks, recorded on 30 May 2021 in de Brakke Grond, is a collaboration between HUMAN, Brainwash Festival and the Flemish-Dutch house for culture and debate DeBuren.

Read the full article and watch the episode (in Dutch) on Brainwash.

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