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Addressing Environmental Racism in the U.S.

Hi Everyone,

For this week’s post, Zöe & I wanted to share some facts about how communities of color are most affected by climate change. Environmental racism or injustice is very prevalent in the U.S. and we wanted this post to be a sort of factsheet for all of you!

We researched these facts and linked the associated articles so that you can look into these issues more deeply and thoroughly if you so desire. At the end of this post, we also added some films that highlight environmental racism/injustice that would be perfect for your next documentary night! 

As defined by Dr. Bullard, “The environmental justice movement has basically redefined what environmentalism is all about. It basically says that the environment is everything: where we live, work, play, go to school, as well as the physical and natural world. And so we can’t separate the physical environment from the cultural environment. We have to talk about making sure that justice is integrated throughout all of the stuff that we do.”

Thank you for your continued support, we are excited to continue advocating for environmental justice through our site.

-Bella & Zöe 

Important Facts:

-“An African American child is three times more likely to go into the emergency room for an asthma attack than a white child, and twice as likely to die from asthma attacks as a white child. African Americans are more likely to die from lung disease, but less likely to smoke. When we did a road tour to visit the communities that were impacted by coal pollution, we found many anecdotal stories of people saying, yes, my husband, my father, my wife died of lung cancer and never smoked a day in her life. And these are people who are living within three miles of the coal-fired power plants we visited.” -Jacqueline Patterson, the Environmental and Climate Justice Director for the NAACP

-African Americans in 2020 are 75 percent more likely to live in close proximity to an oil or gas facility than people of other races.

-Nearly 40 percent of those who live within 3 miles of a coal power plant are people of color.

-Across the country, 6.7 million African Americans live in counties with oil and petroleum refineries, which release toxins linked to cancer. African Americans also suffer from higher risks of cancer due to toxic air emissions from refineries compared with the national average risk.

-Communities of color in the United States are exposed to 38 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide on average than white Americans and are more likely to live around pollutants overall.

-A 2013 study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives found that black Americans are 52 percent more likely than white Americans to live in urban heat islands, putting them at increased risk during heat waves.

-Roughly 3% of the country’s oil and natural gas reserves, 15% of coal reserves and between 37-55% of uranium reserves are located on Indigenous land. These resources and their associated land are sometimes taken away from Indigenous people once they are discovered.

-Low-income households spend twice as much of their gross income on energy costs than the national average, despite consuming less energy.

-Due to uneven distribution patterns, minority and low income communities have far less access to green spaces than white, affluent communities and have limited resources to maintain the green spaces they do have.

-The report “Toxic Wastes and Race 1987-2007" showed that race was the single most important factor in determining where toxic waste facilities and hazardous waste sites were sited in the United States:

  • People of color make up the majority of those living in neighborhoods located within 1.8 miles of the nation's hazardous waste facilities

  • Findings in UCC's 2007 report are consistent with an Associated Press study in Sept. 2005 showing African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of causing the greatest health danger

  • As a whole, racial disparities for people of color exist in 9 out of 10 EPA regions.

-Due to a variety of factors, such as a history of housing discrimination and disinvestment in infrastructure, communities of color are often the most vulnerable to flooding, and those who live near petrochemical plants or Superfund Sites are exposed to toxins that can overflow during a storm.

In another article, titled “Communities of Color Bear the Brunt of Trump’s Anti-Environmental Agenda”, the authors highlight the actions that the Trump administration has taken that have negatively impacted communities of color.

Here are some of the anti-environmental actions taken by the Trump administration:

1. Weakened air and water protections

-Removed protections for ⅓ of U.S. drinking water sources

-Loosened restrictions on toxic mercury pollution

-Repealed the Clean Power Plan (which was intended to reduce pollution)

-Approved increases in nitrogen oxide emissions

-And more!

2. This administration has become a huge threat to health and safety of communities

-Reversed the climate and community protections under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in an attempt to lessen the role of public comment and allow for conflicts of interest

-Declined to place bans on toxic 

-Completely cut the power of the Environmental Protection Agency

3. REFUSED to take action on climate change

-Inaction on climate change in general

-Withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement 

-Proposing a roll back on clean car standards

Communities of color will continue to face the most severe effects of climate change, further exacerbating economic and racial inequalities across the U.S.

Some Choices For Your Next Movie Night!

Films that highlight different cases of environmental racism within the U.S.:

  1. Come Hell or High Water: the Battle For Turkey Creek - follows a Boston teacher (Derrick Evans) who goes home to the coast of Mississippi, where his ancestors’ graves are bulldozed to make way for the building of a new city.

  2. Rise: Standing Rock - shows the resistance at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline, which runs through Sioux ancestral lands.

  3. Beyond Recognition - highlights the how Native individuals struggle to protect their ancestral land and preserve culture in the midst of new construction and U.S. attempts to erase Native histories.

  4. Urban Roots - looks at the efforts of citizens in Detroit to start an urban environmental movement by growing food for their city.

  5. An American Ascent - follows the first African-American expedition to climb North America’s highest mountain peak (Denali). This film addresses an important topic that is often overlooked- the fact that many POC in the U.S. feel that the outdoors is not inclusive. This film gives hope about creating feelings of inclusion in the outdoors through the amazing account of these 9 climbers.

  6. Here’s to Flint - sheds a light on the crisis in Flint, Michigan, where leaders changed the city’s water supply to the heavily-polluted Flint River. The residents’ water was soon infected with e.coli, fecal matter, and lead, which led to cancers, rashes, nervous system issues and hair loss in many people. The film outlines how the majority of people affected by this catastrophe were poor populations and African American community members. The case of Flint remains a prominent example of environmental injustice and racism.

We are strong advocates for intersectional environmentalism:

“an inclusive version of environmentalism that advocates for the protection of people and the planet. It identifies the ways in which injustices happening to marginalized communities and the earth are interconnected. It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth to the forefront, and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people + the planet.” 

*Definition from @GreenGirlLeah 

Sources/Where to Read More:

Environmental Fact Sheet

NAACP Environmental & Climate Justice Resource 

“Communities of Color Bear the Brunt of Trump’s Anti-Environmental Agenda”

“Toxic Wastes and Race 1987-2007” Report

“WHO’S IN DANGER? Race, Poverty, and Chemical Disasters”

“Why 'I can't breathe' is resonating with environmental justice activists”

The 17 Principles of Environmental Justice

“Disparities in Distribution of Particulate Matter Emission Sources by Race and Poverty Status”

  • Photo from @lettersfrom4th via Instagram

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