Unequal Impact: How Black Communities Are on the Front Lines of the Climate Crisis

2 months ago 3 min read
July 19, 2020
By: Lauren Pezzullo
The Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on people of color, have cast an undeniable light on the racial prejudice that remains deeply embedded in American society. We’ve seen the way this discrimination affects these communities—in everything from healthcare rights and incarceration rates, to education and housing opportunities. But one inequality that might come as a surprise is that black people are also disproportionately affected by the harmful consequences of global warming. With global temperature on the rise—we have to act now to protect our most vulnerable communities.

Black People Are More Likely to Live Near Fossil Fuel-Emitting Plants

Here’s a quick history lesson for context. In 1933, the federal government instituted a program deliberately designed to segregate America’s housing stock. This discriminatory practice, known as redlining, allowed banks to deny mortgages to people of color and in low-income areas. As a result, white upper and middle-class families could afford to live in new suburban communities, while black people were denied the chance and segregated into urban housing projects. And even though these discriminatory practices were banned by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, the legacy of redlining lingers.
These less desirable neighborhoods lacked the governmental funding that white and upper-middle-class communities received and, as a result, were often located near hazardous landfills, coal ash dumping sites, and fossil fuel-emitting power plants. Studies show that over the past several decades, nearly 70% of black people live or have lived within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant—one of the biggest polluters to our air and water.

Black People Are More Likely to Breathe in Polluted Air

Here’s a sobering statistic: non-white populations breathe 38% more polluted air than their white counterparts. Scientists and policymakers have long known that the consequences of air pollution are not equally shared. But it’s no coincidence that communities of color are suffering the most. These conditions are the result of decades of political indifference —the very economic and racial inequality which led to what advocates now call environmental racism. After all, when black and low-income communities were siloed in pollution-heavy neighborhoods, they were also exposed—and continue to be exposed—to the dangerous health consequences.
This inequity means these communities experienced higher rates of asthma, cardiovascular disease, low birth weight, and cancer. This is why low-income black people in the US face the highest risk of death from power plant emissions—followed by middle-income black people, low-income white non-Latinos, and upper-income black people.

Black People Are More Likely to Suffer From Extreme Heat

In addition to the rising sea levels, melting glaciers and the warming of our oceans, climate change is also driving dangerous heat waves—and it’s predominantly the black and lower-income neighborhoods that suffer from them the most. That’s because the economic and racial inequality from formerly redlined zones still persists today. Researchers discovered that these communities lack vegetation and natural landscaping that can decrease the surface temperature by absorbing the sun’s heat.Reports show that, of 108 American cities studied, a shocking 94% of formerly redlined neighborhoods have higher surface temperatures than non-redlined areas. As the global temperature has continued to rise, heatwaves have caused more US deaths than floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes combined—and without the resources to manage this heat, black neighborhoods will disproportionately suffer. .

Are You Ready to Fight for Environmental Justice for All?

We can no longer ignore the fact that while we’re all affected globally, certain racial and income groups are disproportionately affected by the effects of global warming. Want to be a part of the environmental justice revolution? Check out our blog to find out how young eco-warriors all over the world are raising their voices and taking action.