How and Why Systemic Racism Harms the Environment
Environmental hazards like pollution and climate disasters often have the severest impacts on people of color, Indigenous tribes, and those on low incomes. Examples include the lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan and petrochemical pollution in Louisiana's Cancer Alley.
There are fewer trees and plant diversity in low-income and racial minority neighborhoods in major cities across the United States. Less tree cover means hotter temperatures and fewer plant and animal species. These neighborhoods also have more disease-carrying pests, such as rodents and mosquitoes, which inevitably affect human health and well-being.
Neighborhoods with low-income and Black and minority groups also tend to be closer to environmental hazards such as industrial waste or dumping sites than wealthier, predominantly white areas.
Decades of proximity to pollution have compromised neighborhood air quality and the respiratory health of the communities and this may have played a role in how they are affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Racist research and conservation approaches must be challenged and redesigned to include justice, equity, and inclusion. In the United States, the origins of environmentalism were heavily influenced by white men who expressed racist perspectives in their efforts to protect nature.
Bolstering public transportation infrastructure, investing in affordable housing and health care, increasing economic opportunities, and strengthening voting rights and access could help reduce these age old inequalities.
These issues are rarely considered by mainstream environmental organizations, but could reduce carbon emissions, dampen environmental hazards, enhance public health, and expand economic mobility of marginalized communities.