In a recent video, Admiral Rachel Levine, the Assistant Secretary for Health, marked Black History Month by shedding light on the disproportionate impact of climate change on black communities. Here’s the full story.

Addressing Climate Inequality

The admiral, donned in military uniform as a member of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, shared pleasure in partnering with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to advance better health through enhanced understanding in black communities.

She claimed that climate change had a disproportionate effect on the physical and mental health of black communities. Citing statistics, Levine pointed out that black Americans were more likely than their white counterparts to live in areas and housing that increased susceptibility to climate-related health issues.

Moreover, 65% of black Americans reported feeling anxious about the impact of climate change.

Government Initiatives to Tackle Inequality

Levine also highlighted the efforts made by the Biden administration to address these disparities.

President Biden directed the HHS to establish the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) through an executive order in 2021, officially rolled out under Levine’s authority on August 31 of the same year. The OCCHE was intended to serve as a department-wide hub for climate change and health policy, programming, and analysis with a focus on environmental justice and equitable health.

Protect Overburdened and Underserved Communities

The Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ), another initiative mentioned by Levine, operated within the Justice Department and aimed to protect overburdened and underserved communities from the harm caused by environmental crimes, pollution, and climate change.

The OEJ played a central role in implementing the Department of Justice’s Comprehensive Environmental Justice Enforcement Strategy, building partnerships with community advocates, and promoting fair and equal treatment in environmental decision-making processes.

A Global Perspective on Climate Injustice

Levine’s assertion aligned with global discussions on the disproportionate impact of climate change.

A 2021 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shared that underserved communities, least able to prepare for and recover from climate-related impacts, bore the most severe harms.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) echoed similar sentiments, sharing that the impacts of climate change varied greatly between countries and population groups.

Ruma Bhargava, the WEF Mental Health Lead, said in 2023 that “the impacts of climate change vary greatly between countries and population groups. This climate crisis is a deeply unfair one, with the poor being disproportionately affected.”

“The countries with the fewest resources are likely to bear the greatest burden in terms of loss of life and relative effect on investment and the economy,” Bhargava added.

So what do you think? How could communities, policymakers, and individuals contribute to advancing climate justice and ensuring fair and equal treatment for all?