Youth Speaks about Environmental Racism at Northbrook Trustee Meeting

Thank you Leia for presenting this Green/Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (Racial Awareness in the Northshore) Moment:

Hello, my name is Leia P.  and I am a student from Glenbrook North.  I’m excited to be presenting a joint RAIN/Go Green Moment, because  climate change and racism are two of the biggest challenges of the 21st Century, and they are strongly intertwined. 

There is a stark divide between those who have caused climate change and those who are experiencing its effects.  People of color in the global south, who suffer most from climate change impacts, have contributed the least to the crisis, as their carbon footprints are generally low.  And Black, Indigneous, and people of color all across the world experience disproportionate amounts of flooded homes, vanishing and polluted sources of drinking water, destroyed livestock and agriculture, disrupted local economies, and extreme heat.

In the United States, Black Communities are disproportionately located in  areas that are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including severe weather events like flooding and hurricanes. Almost 90% of flood damage insurance payments in Chicago are made to households in communities of color. At the same time, Black communities are often given less flood protection from the government. The results of this were vividly shown in Hurricane Katrina, where 80 percent of the homes that were lost belonged to Black people, and Black people made up over half of the total fatalities.

Racism in government funding also affects fire risk.  One study found that “wildfire vulnerability is spread unequally across race and ethnicity”, with majority black, Hispanic or Native American areas facing 50% more vulnerability compared with other groups. This can be attributed to the lack of money spent on reducing the fires and emergency services. 

Racist housing policies can also be directly linked to disproportionate exposure to heat events. Historically redlined neighborhoods suffer a far higher risk of flooding. These neighborhoods also have far fewer open areas with trees that help cool the air, and more paved areas like asphalt lots that absorb and radiate heat.  Studies show this causes these neighborhoods to be 5-12 degrees hotter than others. This leads to a higher amount of heat related illnesses, including exhaustion, stroke, and death. The extreme heat caused by climate change also increases the production of air pollutants, which can lead to cancer, asthma, high blood pressure and more.   

An EPA analysis released last year concluded that the most severe harms from climate change fall disproportionately upon underserved communities who are least able to prepare for, and recover from, climate disasters. 

Key findings of the report include:

  • African Americans are projected to face higher impacts of climate change, compared to all other demographic groups. For example, African Americans are:
    • 34% more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increases in childhood asthma diagnoses, and
    • 40% more likely to live in areas with the highest projected increases in extreme temperature related deaths.
  • Hispanics and Latinos have high participation in weather-exposed industries, such as construction and agriculture, which are especially vulnerable to the effects of extreme temperatures. 
  • Hispanics and Latinos are 43% more likely to live in areas with the highest projected reductions in labor hours due to extreme temperatures.

Our country’s history of racist policies and practices, including segregation, unequal educational opportunities, and limited prospects for economic advancement, have led to increased vulnerability of people of color to climate change impacts.  “Without a doubt, racism influences the likelihood of exposure to environmental and health risks,” Robert Bullard wrote in his book Confronting Environmental Racism. “Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, communities of color, in urban [areas], in rural [communities] or on economically impoverished Native-American reservations, face some of the worst environmental devastation in the nation.”

Work on climate change is work on racial equity.  Thank you, Northbrook, for all of the actions you are taking in this area, and thank you for letting us present this joint moment.