Climate Inequality: Who's Most at Risk?

By Mali Anderson in Thinking Sustainably

Climate change has far-reaching effects on the planet and human health, and it impacts everyone. But it doesn't necessarily impact everyone to the same degree. Climate inequality means some people are more vulnerable to climate change effects and face higher health risks than others. If you're passionate about building a more just and sustainable future, learning about these inequalities can help you take action where it's needed most.

Understanding Who's at Risk

Protecting human health begins with understanding how rising temperatures and changing weather patterns affect everyone's well-being. From there, identifying the communities that experience unequal impacts of climate change can help address climate inequality. Here are some of the most vulnerable groups to be aware of.

Forest on fire


People under the age of 18 are still developing, and poor air quality can adversely impact their bodies. Young children also depend on adults to protect them from environmental harm, such as keeping them indoors during smoke and wildfire alerts.

Pregnant and Postpartum People

Pregnant, postpartum, and breastfeeding people are also more vulnerable to the health impacts of climate change, from disrupted access to medical care to food-system impacts to mental health effects. For example, extreme weather events may increase the risks of complications like preterm birth, eclampsia, and low birth weight.

Outdoor and Emergency Response Workers

People who work outdoors—including construction workers, emergency response workers, and agricultural workers—are more frequently exposed to extreme weather and poor air, increasing their health risks.

Indigenous Populations

Climate change threatens the natural ecosystems that indigenous people rely on. Additionally, institutional barriers can make it difficult for indigenous communities to adapt when they have restricted control over land.

Older Adults and People with Health Conditions

Aging can make it harder for the body to cope with environmental hazards. Older adults are also more likely to have preexisting health conditions that can become worse with exposure to air pollution and heat. Limited mobility and compromised immune systems further elevate the unequal impacts of climate change on older adults.

Regardless of age, those with health conditions like asthma or heart disease may also be at higher risk.

Stepping Up to Support Public Health

With so many people impacted, individuals and communities are taking action. For example, Tom's of Maine introduced the Incubator program to help amplify the voices of people who want to make a positive change, but need help becoming a part of the conversation. The program, which just entered its second year, provides funding, mentorship, and support for five future climate leaders each year.

These environmental champions are focused on things like promoting renewable energy, advocating for climate justice, and participating in climate resilience efforts to help build a healthier, more just world.

Woman holding a sign at a protest that reads

And you can be part of the solution, too. If you want to fight against climate change, consider supporting small-scale farmers, choosing energy-efficient products, composting food scraps, opting for green transportation, and calling on elected officials to invest in equitable solutions to the climate crisis.

Interested in learning more? Check out organizations that are inspiring climate change hope and meet the Year Two Members of the Tom's of Maine Incubator!

Image Source: Pexels | Pexels | Pexels

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