Feb 10, 2023 • Annie Cao
As climate change continues to impact our planet, environmental activists and organizations are pushing for more urgent action, especially for frontline communities. When natural disasters occur, frontline communities are hit the hardest. These areas are also disproportionately exposed to harmful pollution that results in poor health and living conditions.
However, frontline communities don’t have equal access to the resources and funding that they need, making them increasingly vulnerable to global warming. When policymakers try to resolve these issues, they make ineffective legislative changes that don’t address local environmental priorities. Frontline communities are at the heart of the climate crisis, and it’s important to help them in order to bring climate justice to the people living in these communities and the environment.
Frontline communities are located in rural unincorporated areas or places that lack basic infrastructure. This leads to unequal access to essential resources, such as unsafe water systems or a lack of grocery stores. These communities are usually made up of:
Frontline communities experience a combination of social, economic, and environmental injustices. As a result, these areas face degraded living conditions and unequal opportunities to improve their quality of life.
Frontline communities lack the funding for basic infrastructure — essential services such as paved roads, streetlights, reliable water and sewage systems, public transportation, and grocery stores are only some of the things that poorer cities are missing. This makes it harder to attain environmental sustainability, and climate change is sure to worsen living conditions if no changes are made.
These neighborhoods also struggle with unequal socioeconomic opportunities. Discrimination, racism, gentrification, and multi-family households are connected to low-income communities, where there’s a lack of adequate housing to face weather extremes. Low-income areas also struggle with being able to afford healthcare while being disproportionately exposed to pollution in their daily life.
An important environmental issue felt by frontline communities is a heavy exposure to toxins that pollute the water and air. Living near heavily used freeways, rivers filled with toxic wastewater, or areas affected by unsustainable agriculture and wildfires contribute to air and water pollution. All of this translates to poorer health, higher stress levels, and an elevated risk of premature deaths that’s more likely in low-income neighborhoods or communities with people of color.
Frontline communities face a lack of political representation, and legislative changes are usually not made with the community’s specific environmental needs in mind. Politicians and researchers tend to ignore local issues and implement projects that are not tailored to the community’s key issues.
There are ways we can help underserved, underrepresented frontline communities:
By acknowledging the strengths of local experts and the authority and resources that politicians have, a genuine partnership can provide a voice to frontline communities. Community-based projects can help find solutions while having access to the necessary resources and funds to create legislative change.
Frontline communities work and live in conditions that are heavily exposed to pollution. Investing in multi-benefit projects can simultaneously solve several issues at once. For instance, creating buffer zones that surround frontline communities can potentially create safe water systems, reduce air pollution, and provide green areas to improve mental health and the look of the city. Buffer zones can also provide improved socioeconomic and environmental opportunities within several areas of frontline communities.
Becoming involved in the fight to bring climate justice to frontline communities is one way to directly help these areas. An organization that has been taking action is the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA). Taking the time to volunteer or donate to orgs like these helps make a difference.
When frontline communities are strengthened, they can sustainably protect themselves from natural disasters and become safer and healthier areas to live. The people living there can attain better educational and financial opportunities, thus improving their quality of life. Supporting these underserved cities not only helps the environment, but the community of people who live there.