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Why are POC and disenfranchised communities experiencing the worse effects of climate change?

Updated: Jan 29, 2023

Article Written by Maureen Dubouloz

For hundreds of years the Black and Brown communities in the United States have been exploited and denied equal rights to housing. The effects of climate change have now exacerbated such inequalities, widening the chasm of socioeconomic disparities. Despite the fact that white communities “are mainly to blame for air pollution, Black and Hispanic communities bear the burden”(Stanley, 2019). Redlining in the United States was outlawed in 1968, however formerly redlined neighborhoods continue to attract lower income families as well as immigrants and people of color. Formerly redlined areas have remained undesirable to white people. Although there are fewer policies explicitly denying the access to resources and financial assistance, the marginalized communities residing in these neighborhoods are now disproportionately affected by climate change and deprived of the means to combat its effects. (Stanley, 2019) The United States’ history of systemically racist legislations evince the disproportionate environmental insecurity experienced by disenfranchised communities as historically redlined neighborhoods undermine their health and socioeconomic wellbeing.

Redlining and Air Pollution:

Businesses have repeatedly placed polluting operations and industrial plants in communities of color. Disadvantaged communities “are often chosen as sites for landfills, chemical plants, bus terminals and other dirty businesses because corporations know it’s harder for these residents to object”(Cho, 2020).​​​ These industrial exploitations result in the fact that communities of color are impelled to live “in some of the most polluted environments in the US”(Cho, 2020). In comparison to the average district mean, marginalized communities experience 80 percent higher levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution. (Lane et al., 2022) Subsequently, “Black people are three times more likely to die from air pollution than white.” (Cho, 2020)​​​​ The systemically racist laws that were established in the United States almost nine decades ago “means 45 million Americans are breathing dirtier air.” (Fears, 2022) Redlining has evidently created a shocking disparity between who has access to clean air. The lack of financial resources, connection, time and appropriate language of the inhabitants of disadvantaged areas continue to reveal the perpetuation of marginalized communities decades after the illegalization of redlining.

Redlining and Extreme Weather Events

Plains were used to locate many redlined areas because they were prone to flooding. As a result, over $107 billion worth of formerly redlined homes are at high risk of flooding. (Katz, 2021) Redlined areas in the past also received less funds for infrastructure which are crucial to mitigating various climate disasters such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and floods. Due to the lack of investment in infrastructure, these areas are often vulnerable to extreme weather disasters. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, LA in August 2005, “half of the 1,200 people who died were Black and 80 percent of the homes that were destroyed belonged to Black residents.” (Cho, 2020) Moreover, white New Orleans neighborhoods were prioritized for reconstruction despite experiencing less flood damage and possessing better infrastructure.

Redlining and Heat-Related Deaths

Historically redlined neighborhoods were deprived of the opportunities and resources for urban landscaping. The lack of vegetation such as shade trees has robbed marginalized areas of their cooling effects. As a result, these neighborhoods are close to 5 degrees Fahrenheit warmer compared to historically non redlined areas. (The Link Between Historic Redlining And Current Climate Risks, 2021) The effects of the excessive heat take a huge toll on all members of the Black community. A study of infant mortality in California published in July 2015 revealed that the rate of infant mortality linked to heat waves was the highest in Black families. (Cho, 2020) Similarly, a 2013 study on heat-related death in New York City reveals that Black residents, making up 25 percent of the city’s population, represent 50 percent of heat related deaths. (Jessel, n.d.) The intersection between race and climate becomes clear as devastating statistics prove the disproportionate deprivation of disenfranchised communities.

Advocating for climate change is intrinsically linked with addressing social inequalities. A 1987 report explained that “race was the single most important factor in determining where to locate a toxic waste facility in the US.”(United Church of Christ, n.d.) Racist laws that were declared illegal decades ago remain nonetheless ingrained in the fabric of society and are still impacting people of color today. Immigrants, low income communities, and people for whom English is not their first language are all more likely to experience the worst effects of climate change because of where they have been forced to live generation after generation. The fight against climate change is also a social justice work.



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