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Fri Nov 16, 2012, 07:59 PM

What Hurricane Sandy Should Teach Us About Climate Justice

By Imara Jones NOVEMBER 15, 2012

President Obama’s trip to New York City today underscores the fact that it’s time for people who care about racial and economic justice to take center stage in the climate change debate. For years climatologists and economists have warned that the consequences of a changing climate would fall first, hardest and fastest on those already staggering under the weight of racial and economic disparities. This “climate gap”—given its name in a 2009 University of California report—was brought into sharp relief by Sandy.

Though the storm’s destructive capacity was spread across 200 miles, the consequences of the damage were uneven. In fact, Sandy revealed that economic inequality has life and death consequences. Nowhere highlights the point more than New York City’s aftermath in the storm’s wake.

Sandy and the Climate Gap

New York City’s economy is larger than Switzerland’s or South Korea’s. But its glitter and gold obscures the fact that one out of three people here live on the economic edge, working hourly wage jobs in fast food restaurants, retail stores, or hotels. The bottom 20 percent of workers in New York, according to the Census Bureau, earn less than $10,000 a year. As in the rest of the country, these workers are disproportionately black and brown. Nearly six out of 10 residents of New York City is a person of color.

In a cruel twist of irony, Sandy smashed into the world’s wealthiest city but hit its poorest neighborhoods the hardest. Hardscrabble Red Hook, Coney Island, and the Rockaways were left wrecked by the storm. Working class Staten Island looked as if a tactical nuclear bomb had gone off. One out of three people who died from Sandy in the United States lived in New York City. Almost all of them came from the boroughs where working poor and non-salaried New Yorkers call home.
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