For the past few months, it has been rare not to see racism, climate change, Covid19 or all three erupting through the news headlines. It appears that the global pandemic has sparked deeper interest in climate change and communities have said enough is enough when it comes to racism.
These three areas are not only being pushed to the top of the news agenda by ordinary people but they are, when you delve deeper, all subtly connected. But what are the connections between these issues at the top of the current agenda?
Covid affects some ethnicities more than others
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has published data on the death toll during the pandemic taking into account age, gender and ethnicity of those affected. The findings appear concerning.
Whilst black people make up only 3% of the population in England and Wales they account for 6 out of 100 coronavirus deaths. It has been estimated that they are four times more likely to die from coronavirus than white people.
Seven out of every 100 coronavirus deaths are from Indian, Bangladeshi or Pakistani communities and have double the death rate of white people in the same neighbourhoods.
It appears unlikely that genetics is the issue here, so what is going on?
The conclusions being made are that the statistics are likely due to poverty, environmental factors, and the work people do. Indeed, Public Health England published a report in June confirming that the virus kills ethnic minorities at disproportionately high rates. Yet the general feeling is in ethnic communities that nothing has been or is being done about this.
What does this have to do with racism?
It has been suggested that the knock-on effect of racism and social inequality has led to increased risks of catching and dying from coronavirus.
Historic racism (we have an uncomfortable past whether we see ourselves as racist now or not) means that people are less likely to seek care or demand better PPE. Other possible factors include living conditions, occupation and role of diet. There is also evidence to suggest stress caused by suffering racism can give people poorer health, making them more vulnerable to the disease.
Environmental health and access to nature has also played a role in the differing experiences between ethnic groups during the Covid19 pandemic. People of colour are more likely to live in urban areas with a deficiency of green spaces. Without this natural buffer to the stresses of urban life, Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people are disproportionately affected by environmental conditions which evoke stress and harm our health.
Outside space is not only essential for physical and mental well-being, it is also important for exposing skin to sunlight for Vitamin D which is vital for healthy immune systems. Black and Asian people can be more deficient as melanin-rich skin doesn’t absorb as much UV radiation. Being in green spaces also decreases and lowers heart rate and blood pressure.
So, by virtue of our unaddressed racist past, people from ethnic backgrounds tend to experience a more urban and poorer environment that makes them more likely to catch Covid19, and less likely to cope with it if they do catch it. This really is highlighting something shocking that our society should be paying close attention to.
Racism and climate change
People of colour are the most impacted by climate change globally. In fact, the demand for a Green New Deal, alongside youth climate strikes, sees the fight against climate catastrophe as being inextricably linked to the fight against poverty, racism, and social injustice.
How can climate change efforts help?
There is currently a big push for a ‘Green recovery’ and tackling climate change. There was a drop in pollution and gas emissions due to the decline in road travel and air travel during lock-down, but that is now reversing. This has been great for the environment (even if short-lived) but of course, the economic fall-out will inevitably be hitting the most disadvantaged in our society the worst. That will, therefore, tend to mean people from ethnic backgrounds.
But, now is not the time to lose traction and miss the opportunity to make real change in every area of importance in our society. Communities need to invest in increasing the amount of green areas and encouraging access to these by everyone in the community. This will not only help with climate change but could make a real difference in improving the health of people living in deprivation and poorer conditions. It is a small step towards creating more equality of health for people, but one that is much needed as the figures for Covid 19 deaths of people from ethnic origin has highlighted.
We will plant a Forest to be shared by everyone
At a time of a global health pandemic and heightened racial consciousness, the need to bring humanity together has never been greater. The Covid19 Memorial Forest Fund is seeking to tackle all of these issues in our own small way by creating a forest to be enjoyed together by all communities.
We believe a fitting way to keep pushing the green agenda and the fight for racial and social justice is by planting a Memorial Forest, to help remember those we have lost to Covid19 and also to celebrate the strength of human spirit our nation has demonstrated in addressing the common challenge of Covid19. This community forest could create more than 100 acres of green, open and natural space for people and wildlife as well as off-setting 124 million miles of carbon.
It will, we hope, be a symbol that demonstrates that ordinary people can come together in times of need to make a positive change in the world – just as people did when we all came together to support each other through the worst stages of the Covid19 tragedy.