Earth Day 2022 – Including People with Disabilities in the Climate Change Conversation

Earth Day 2022 Climate change and disability community.

By Menachem Rephun, Communications Manager and Self Advocate

Earth Day 2022 – Invest in Our Planet…

Climate change affects all of us, but people with disabilities are even more powerfully impacted. In our original article, we explore how individuals, organizations, and business leaders can make a difference in including people with disabilities in the climate change conversation. The theme of this year’s Earth Day is Invest in Our Planet. We believe this perspective needs to include the disabilities community. Climate change is one of the most important issues of our time, but people with disabilities are being left behind due to ableism, endemic poverty, restricted access to transportation, and limited voice in civic governance. Improving representation and inclusion for people with disabilities in employment will pave the way towards becoming a part of climate change discussions, ultimately supporting the goals of environmentalists and the next generation of activists in creating a positive, sustainable future.

Earth Day 2022: Overview

It’s no exaggeration to say that climate change is one of the most important and widely-discussed issues of our time. Human-produced temperature increases created by burning fossil fuels and destroying forests can have devastating and irreparable consequences for the environment, resulting in storms, floods, droughts, higher death rates due to heat-exacerbated illnesses, dirtier air, higher wildlife extinction rates, and many other adverse effects. Amidst all of the controversy and partisanship, one aspect of this issue that has been conspicuously overlooked is the impact global warming will have on the millions of people living with disabilities. As the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, people with disabilities (a demographic comprising roughly 10-15% of the global population) are at substantially greater risk for a variety of reasons, including dependence on others during extreme heatwaves, limited mobility, restricted access to transportation, and greater mental and physical health impacts during extreme events that require evacuation. Environmental Health News points out that photographic evidence from past natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, shows that people with disabilities are often ignored and left behind in life-or-death situations.

Earth Day 2022: Important news
Needless to say, this lack of basic concern for one of society’s most vulnerable communities is extremely troubling. That’s why Creative Spirit is leveraging all of our resources, connections, and partnerships with other organizations to try and make a difference. Our mantra is ensuring that people with disabilities are included and have a voice, not only in employment, but in all spheres of public life, and this extends to discussions about climate change. Unfortunately, the current state of inclusion is very far from where it should be. In an article published last year, Marlena Chertok, a poet and writer with a disability, explains that people with disabilities have been conspicuously marginalized and excluded from plans and strategies designed to address climate change. “Disabled people are some of the most resilient people in the world,” Chertok writes. “There is much to learn from how we navigate a world not built for us. While governments, cities, and companies are developing mitigation and adaptation strategies to respond to varied climate risks, there is little consideration or inclusion of the disabled in their plans. This must change.” Chertok notes that people with disabilities are uniquely and disproportionately affected by climate change, due to endemic poverty, inaccessible public transportation and infrastructure, and limited voice in civic governance. She stresses the need for governments to re-evaluate the accessibility of health services, medicine, electricity, and life-saving technology for people with disabilities during disaster situations, and to consider on a practical level whether people with disabilities have access to warnings and sufficient time to evacuate from disaster zones. In a 2020 Human Rights Watch report, senior associate Cara Schulte also elaborated on the systemic factors that endanger people with disabilities in connection with climate change. “People with disabilities… experience poverty at more than twice the rate of people without disabilities,” Schulte writes. “This puts people with disabilities at heightened risk, as the world’s poorest people continue to experience the most severe impacts of climate change through lost income, displacement, hunger, and adverse impacts on health.” This fact suggests that protecting people with disabilities from the effects of climate change is also connected to resolving inequality, exclusion, and other societal issues. This involves ensuring accountability and raising awareness among business leaders, legislators, and policy-makers, and Creative Spirit is working constantly to be at the forefront of that effort.

Earth Day 2022: Solutions

Fortunately, there has been some official recognition of people with disabilities in climate change efforts. A 2019 resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council called for a study on promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities in relation to climate change, while the preamble to the 2015 Paris Climate Accords acknowledges the disability community as an especially vulnerable demographic. Leaders in business and disability advocacy have also stepped up to broaden awareness and inclusion. In his opening remarks at a 2021 event for Humanitarian Networks and Partnerships Week, disability advocate and World Blind Union CEO Jose Viera outlined clear, practical steps that can be taken to ensure the inclusion of people with disabilities in climate change discussions. These include creating and strengthening relevant partnerships; formalizing advocacy groups where people with disabilities are participating in climate change action; and ensuring that what is agreed on at the international level is also implemented effectively at the national level. At Creative Spirit, we believe that significantly boosting representation and ensuring fair-wage employment and equal opportunities for people with disabilities will enable greater inclusion when it comes to other vital issues like climate change. As Krystal Vasquez, a Ph.D. candidate at the California Institute of Technology and a person living with a disability, writes, “We need to ensure disabled people are among the scientists, public health officials and policymakers responsible for these decisions because who better to know what’s best for the community than the community members themselves?” Through our partnerships with numerous organizations across advertising and media, and our personalized coaching, mentoring, and job-training services, Creative Spirit is ensuring that people with disabilities are given a seat at the table when it comes to issues that directly impact their own welfare, and are able to have their voices heard as self-advocates. Climate change isn’t just an abstraction, but a truly global issue focused on survival in emergency situations and the overall welfare of the environment. As such, there’s absolutely no excuse for people with disabilities to be excluded or left behind, and we can’t call ourselves a humane or ethical society until our most vulnerable members are listened to and cared for.  

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