Dying From Climate Change While Poor

The heat rose from the asphalt beneath me like a snake with no head. It circled around my body and landed in my nose and mouth. I began to have choking sensations. It was at least 111 degrees with heavy smog in downtown Los Angeles that day and I had already been working for eight hours, but me and my mama had no money to eat so I couldn’t leave our vendor stand cause I still hadn’t made a sale.

After two more hours out there I fainted and I ended up in the county emergency room begging the nurses to let me out so I could go back to work. I was a hard worker, used to standing for hours in heat, wind, smog, humidity, rain and dust-filled conditions at our little unlicensed art stand to make a sale, but this day’s intense heat and thick smog almost killed me. This day came back to me as a terrifying memory as I reflected on the 165 degree “off the charts” heat in Iran and the thousands of deaths of poor workers and houseless people all across Mama Earth recently dying from heat exposure.

Over 1,400 Poor Workers, Homeless People and “Beggars” Die From Heat Exposure in India

People already know that the destruction of Mama Earth and its resulting climate change is bad – bad for Mama Earth and its people, but in the last two months the horrible reality of its specific impact on poor people became more clear to the world than ever. Those of us who have lived on the margins of survival – getting asthmafrom environmentally racist and classist oil drilling in our backyards and barrios, cancer from dangerous chemicals being off-loaded in our streets, fields and lakes; affected by the rise in the earth’s temperature so that more and more of our babies and elders are getting dangerous allergies and asthmatic symptoms; not to mention Fukushima, Japan’s nuclear disaster’s destruction of our fish and Pacific Ocean, and more chemical spills than we can remember – are already quite familiar with the connection between corporate destruction and our poor bodies.

Death Toll From Heat Wave in Karachi, Pakistan, Hits 1,000

In Pakistan, it was another example of poor people faring the worst with the deaths being of “houseless people and drug addicts,” as reported in The New York Times. It was similar to the situation earlier this year of poor families in Detroit losing their water due to corporate theft. Corporate energy companies operate a class-based system of energy access all over the world with low-income neighborhoods of India and Pakistan facing prolonged, unannounced power outages and periods of extremely low voltage, while rich people’s neighborhoods get the energy they need.

In the recent issue of Decolonewz, (a newspaper of the Blackarthur neighborhood by Deecolonize Academy and POOR Magazine youth and poverty skolaz), she outlines the ways that climate change immediately impacts poor communities of color. In India in June and Pakistan in July, we see this has global implications beyond our human comprehension.

But in case you might be making that common error that global North folks say, “oh that’s only poor people in South Asia who experience real poverty,” this same disgusting phenomena happened in the racist, classist stolen land called Arizona in October 2006 as reported by POOR/PNN houseless poverty skola correspondent Michael Woodard. In this case due the ongoing and very real way that poor and houseless people are treated all across the United States, Arizona being one of the worst paces to be a poor or migrant worker or houseless person with a plethora of anti-poor people laws, constant police harassment, hardly any services provided, truly affordable housing and a severe lack of shelter beds, scores of houseless people died on the streets from “asphyxiation,” exposure to temperatures that are higher than the human body can withstand, or lack of access to water or shelter.

Also, interestingly enough, Iran, which in July experienced record-breaking 165-degree heat, has installed, maintained and repaired its air conditioners for people and workers of all incomes, not practicing the fatalistic lie of who deserves to “die” and who doesn’t, like so many countries that treat their poor people like dogs, like the United States.

Let’s be very clear: This isn’t just about climate change; this is about colonization, scarcity models and the theft of Mama Earth’s resources by companies trying to make money off the finite resources of Mama Earth.

People all over the world have differing versions of feudal- and class-driven social deterministic beliefs, that allow them to rationalize away any culpability for the people who are outside with nowhere to go, no other jobs to work in, and no homes to sleep in. Oh, they got themselves there; they drink or use drugs; they made decisions in life. That is there fate.

As a houseless child who almost died from exposure and later a houseless mother who almost died from mold poisoning in poor people housing, I am here to tell you, that is bullshit. There is no deserving versus undeserving poor; there is only apathy. There is exhaustion, There is racism; there are borders, non-profiteering and for-profiteering, real estate speculation and rich people resource hoarding, historical trauma of chattel slavery, eugenics and the original theft called colonization that not only raped and pillaged Mama Earth, but also its earth peoples, leaving so many of us lost to the lies of success, capitalism and corporate destruction.

Where does this leave us now? In small revolutions to hold on to what little might be left but this is also a challenge to launch and change and repair. To start enacting really real reparations and true wealth redistribution. We have launched just such a liberation movement in the intentionally blighted, poor people of color neighborhood called East Oakland or Huchiun Ohlone territory; this is a neighborhood intentionally blighted, left and criminalized, just in time for the social workers, police and developers to come in and “clean it up.”

We poor folks call our project Homefulness, a poor people-led solution to homelessness, which we hope to help other poor and indigenous people launch all across Mama Earth as a way to decolonize people from the lie that anyone owns Mama Earth or her resources. The Homefulness movement is rooted in poverty and indigenous resistance and is led by poor and indigenous peoples. We don’t engage with the people who kill us or the lies that separate us. We walk the walk of personal accountability, respect and love everyday no matter how hard it gets.

We are working very hard with minimal resources to bring us down eventually to net-zero energy use, so we can enact a truly “green” project that heals Mama Earth and all of us colonized people, but in the process we are noticing the ways in which corporate energy and water companies not only steal resources and then sell them backto us at crazy prices, but how they make poor people-led liberation almost impossible by charging thousands of dollars for the permits just to “use” their stolen resources.

The other important process that we as a people need to understand is that we have been lied to so long about the myth of independence and capital-driven success, that we believe it. So many people without realizing it have bought the deserving versus undeserving poor notion that some people matter more than others. As things get worse on our Mama Earth it will be more important than ever to recognize the harm that colonization has done to all of us and the responsibility that we all have to each other. This cuts across race, class and spiritual practices. This isn’t just a revolutionary or indigenous peoples’ perspective; this is a basic idea of all faiths. This is what spiritual revolutionaries like Jesus Christ were really working to make us understand just like Mohammed, Moses, Buddha and many more. This is interdependence, something we all need to practice so all of us can survive, not just some of us.