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The Impact of Climate Change on Marginalized Groups in Canada

JULY 2024

My name is Jessie Wu and I am in my third year at the University of Toronto, double-majoring in Philosophy and English.

I joined the UofMosaic Fellowship program to acquire the relevant tools and knowledge to dismantle micro-aggressions as expressions of prejudice. 

For my paper, I chose to investigate prejudice and climate change in a Canadian contex. Today, more than ever, we are facing a global climate crisis. I explore how climate change disproportionately impacts the Northern populations of Canada due to a variety of socioeconomic factors. To combat these deadly effects, the government must take action.

I hope this paper will help readers open their hearts and minds to issues that do not affect them directly, and in doing so, transform everyone into more global-minded citizens. ​


Jessie Wu

UofMosaic Fellow

Cohort: 2021 - 2023



Climate change — from the smog that suffocates us to the rapidly rising sea levels that drown our megacities — is a pervasive and global phenomenon. However, we are not impacted by its effects equally.


No matter where pipelines are located or how contaminated water is in certain locations, it is clear that structurally marginalized groups are disproportionately impacted by the environmental challenges perpetuated by climate change. In this paper, I discuss these detrimental effects in a Canadian context and explore them with reference to Northern Canada.


There are three ways in which social inequality and climate change intersect. Marginalized groups are:  (i) more impacted by climate change’s life-threatening impacts (Dwyer 2020); (ii) more sensitive to damage (Dwyer 2020); and (iii) less equipped to deal with and recover from that damage (Islam and Winkel 2017). A person may be more vulnerable to natural catastrophes like flooding and droughts depending on their specific geographical location and their occupation. Most often, less advantaged people live in these dangerous regions because they cannot afford to live elsewhere (Islam and Winkel 2017) or because of other discriminatory policies and history. Political and economic choices lead to high concentrations of excluded groups in hazardous regions, like the Canadian Arctic, which is presently experiencing the worst case of climate change in the entirety of Canada (Dwyer 2020). Individuals may also be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change because of their livelihoods and living arrangements, such as living in poorly constructed homes that are prone to flooding. In the event of a disaster, many members of marginalized communities struggle to recover due to a lack of public and private resources (Islam and Winkel 2017). Because many of these community members do not own homes or were unable to achieve homeownership due to economic barriers, government assistance is often unhelpful as it comes in the form of tax reductions for existing homeowners (Peres 2018).


The Nunavut Climate Change Center “has identified that culture, traditional activities, food security, health and disease, heritage places, infrastructure, transportation, resource development, tourism, arts, and energy” (Dwyer 2020) will be inevitably impacted by climate change in the coming years. Climate change affects the Arctic and the lives and cultures of those who live there in a variety of ways. Indigenous peoples in the area are concerned about a variety of issues, including the disappearance of certain species, the availability of food sources, a sharp decline in reliable weather forecasts, and the safety of travel in rapidly changing climate conditions. These issues pose “serious challenges to human health and food security” (Dwyer 2020). For instance, Indigenous peoples in the Arctic region rely on gathering, fishing, herding, and hunting a range of arctic animals not only for food but also for maintaining the local economy. These activities serve as the foundation for their cultural and social identity. Additionally, decreasing ice could allow increased shipping through Arctic waterways like the Northwest Passage. While Nunavut may profit economically from this shipping, there is also a significant environmental impact, such as the risk of oil and chemical spills. Therefore, we must plan to ensure future environmental sustainability to account for increased land-use activities, natural resource development, population growth, and an expanding economy (Dwyer 2020).

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, pipelines are one of the many causes of environmental contamination. Because of their propensity for spillage and contamination, pipelines are extremely harmful to the environment and are one example of environmental racism. A number of pipelines, such as the Trans Mountain pipeline in Canada, pass through many Indigenous communities. Indigenous communities were not permitted to protest when construction started in 1951, and they were not consulted prior to the Canadian government's 2016 approval of the pipeline extension (Peres 2018). Therefore, whenever there is an oil spill, it would likely (and unfairly) take place on Indigenous land (Peres 2018).


Location is crucial to one's quality of life. Location-based discrimination in ]Canada  started with redlining, which is “when institutions decline to make mortgage loans in specific areas'' (Harris 2003). The beginnings of redlining can be traced back to the identification of less-desirable suburbs; further research indicates that land registry and property assessment data corroborates emergent redlining patterns in Hamilton, Ontario (Harris 2003). The Home Owners' Loan Corporation was also established, and it created residential security maps that classified neighbourhoods by socioeconomic status, from the "best people,'' or “businessmen”, to the "detrimental." Detrimental neighbourhoods mainly housed people who were classified as  foreign-born, lower-class white, or Black. This classification of neighbourhoods was justified as a means to ensure that people fulfilled their mortgages. It became more difficult to buy or refinance homes in redlined neighbourhoods, despite research showing that they do not have higher rates of mortgage defaults.


Redlined neighbourhoods lost access to public services and descended into poverty. 
Redlining continues to severely disadvantage racialized people, Indigenous peoples, and lower socio-economic people. For example, white families still inherit more family wealth through homeownership than Black families, despite the 1968 Fair Housing Act’s efforts to end housing discrimination. Due to decades of housing segregation, Black people still have a harder time getting a mortgage today, and there are differences in policing, education, and health between different neighbourhoods (Demby 2018). Redlining plays a crucial part in environmental injustice when taking into account the health conditions that redlined neighbourhoods now suffer.


Overall, these cases demonstrate that there is environmental injustice against disadvantaged populations and that it will only intensify as climate change progresses. These instances all highlight the significance of geography, which is related to redlining's long-standing impact on underprivileged communities. It would be erroneous to overlook the severity of environmental injustice and the history of housing segregation when developing measures to successfully reduce the effects of climate change. To establish a caring, environmentally friendly global community, we must identify and combat systematic inequalities, such as policies that disproportionately affect Indigenous land and discrimination in the housing market.


Demby, Gene. 2018. “Housing Segregation and Redlining in America: A Short History.” Code Switch, YouTube, National Public Radio. 


Dwyer, Charlotte. 2020. “Effects of Climate Change on Marginalized Communities.” ArcGIS StoryMaps, Esri.


Harris, Richard, and Doris Forrester. “The Suburban Origins of Redlining: A Canadian Case Study, 1935-54.” Urban Studies 40, no. 13 (2003): 2661–86.


Islam, S. Nazrul, and John Winkel. 2017. “Climate Change and Social Inequality.” United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, no. 152.


Peres, Sonya. 2018. “The Kinder Morgan Pipeline is One of Many Examples of Environmental Racism.” The Organization for World Peace.

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