Puerto Rico Is the Latest Victim in a Long History of Environmental Racism

Global environmental issues are inextricably tied up with other societal issues, both domestic and internationally. Everything from structural racism to big money in politics informs our ability to effectively take action to avert impending disaster.

Climate change experts and activists alike have long understood the challenge of mitigating the growing climate crisis as an example of the tragedy of the commons. In the end, everyone is worse off because no one wants to do the right thing at their own expense when they could instead profit from ignoring the consequences.

However, even this is an oversimplification, because both nations and specific demographic groups experience different benefits and risks as a result of environmental inaction. For instance, a record-breaking hurricane season in 2017 wrought havoc in American communities, including Puerto Rico. Hurricane Maria heavily impacted the island territory, but disaster relief for residents has been far from satisfactory.

President Donald Trump, a known racist who seems to tar all Latinos, immigrants, non-English speakers and brown people with the same discriminatory brush, doesn’t like Puerto Ricans much. Within weeks of experiencing a disaster that killed thousands Trump bashed San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, a woman who was managing a disaster zone and calling for the federal government to get its act together when it came to providing aid to the island — a far cry from sitting around and tweeting.

Yet the less-than-satisfactory disaster relief to the island is instructive, as it showed how the wrong kind of people can be a lower priority to those controlling the levers of power.

Low-income communities of color in the United States and elsewhere have often been overlooked when it comes to determining how we respond to our most pressing environmental emergencies. Drug addiction suddenly became a campaign issue for the first time in presidential history in 2016, when the opioid crisis was sweeping through predominantly white rural communities. When black communities were suffering from the influx of crack cocaine in urban areas, this was hardly a topic in presidential debates.

Likewise, many global environmental issues — such as sea-level rise, increased frequency and severity in hurricanes, coral reef destruction and plastic pollution disproportionately affect poorer Asian, African and Latin American nations. And within the United States, hurricanes and floods disproportionately threaten coastal or island communities like New Orleans and Puerto Rico, especially residents of color. The significantly better response that Houston, a wealthier and whiter city, received after Hurricane Harvey is indicative of the Trump administration’s distorted priorities.

Hurricanes and floods are no longer natural disasters, however. Our failure to control our own environmental footprint as a species directly impacts the likelihood and severity of extreme weather events such as these. Now, a new study reveals that the world’s coral reefs, teetering on the brink of extinction, serve as a critical natural defense against these types of disasters. If we don’t take drastic action to protect them, the human cost could be extreme.

But when the Trump administration hasn’t even prioritized restoring power in Puerto Rico, will government officials take the necessary steps to protect at-risk communities?

Take Action!

Only with public pressure can we convince Scott Pruitt and the EPA to defend critical natural resources. Please sign and sign and share this Care2 petition to stand up for threatened coral reef ecosystems.

Creating a Care2 petition is easy. If you have an issue you care deeply about, why not start your own petition? Here are some guidelines to help you get started and soon the Care2 community will be signing up to support you.


Photo credit: Thinkstock


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago

Thank you.

Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson10 months ago

Thank you.

Shirley P
Shirley Plowmanabout a year ago


ANA MARIJA Rabout a year ago

well said, Bill Eagle... :(

John W
John Wabout a year ago

If you say so...

Naomi D
Naomi Dabout a year ago

defend critical natural resources

Paris C
Paris Cabout a year ago

Coupling racism and environmentalism together will shut peoples ears to both. Please stop using this outdated Leninist tactic or environmentalism will go down with the sinking ship that is the left. Please.

Dave fleming
Past Member about a year ago

Race again

Chad A
Chad Andersonabout a year ago


Mary B
Mary Babout a year ago

Gary J, so what is The Governments responsibility to it's territory ? What are a humanitarians response to people in crisis regardless of race ? Why would it be different ? Crisis is crisis. What's your problem with those living in government housing? You want them living on the street? How about grass huts ? Or does it still come down to how much it costs in taxes that THEY aren't paying. But you do.Go get a job that pays so little you won't owe any Federal Tax.