Dr. Marc Gorelick, president and CEO, progressive pediatrics blog

Reflecting on the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of color

When we think of Earth Day, we think of climate change and environmental impacts. While it may seem that climate change may affect everyone living on Earth equally, there’s mounting evidence to suggest otherwise. Climate change disproportionately affects the Black, indigenous and communities of color more than it does the white community.

If we want to fully address the disparities in our community and systemic racism, we must address environmental racism.

Environmental racism is evident by the fact that Black, indigenous and people of color experience more exposure to environmental hazards, like pollution, which then can also cause health problems for their community. In fact, the fight against environmental racism and for environmental justice began during the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. People were fighting for their families to have a safe place to live.

Environmental racism is alive everywhere, including in Minnesota. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MCPA) evaluates the disproportionate effects of air pollution in Minnesota. They conclude that 91% of Minnesotan communities of color and indigenous communities and 46% of low-income communities are above the air pollution-related risk guidelines compared to 31% statewide.

The father of the environmental justice movement, Professor Robert Bullard wrote, “Whether by conscious design or institutional neglect, communities of color in urban ghettos, in rural ‘poverty pockets,’ or on economically impoverished Native-American reservations face some of the worst environmental devastation in the nation.”

What is environmental justice?

What our community needs is not only social justice, but environmental justice as well. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”

This goal will only be achieved when everyone can be guaranteed:

  • The same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards.
  • Equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn and work.

Take a look at the facts:

  • One of the first times environmental racism was recognized was in a 1983 report by the United States General Accounting Office that found 75% of communities near harmful landfill sites were predominantly Black.
  • A 2008 study found that Black families tend to live in neighborhoods with higher concentrations of air pollution than white families – even when they have the same or more income.
    • Asthma deaths are four times higher for Black Minnesotans than for white Minnesotans, according to MDH.
  • In 2019, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) found that while white people largely cause air pollution, Blacks and Latinxs are more likely to breathe it in.
  • The 2019 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that racial and ethnic minorities in Houston, Chicago and Baltimore are disproportionately affected by flooding.
  • The EPA says, 71% of African Americans live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards compared to only 58% of non-Hispanic whites.
Marc Gorelick, president and CEO

Marc Gorelick, MD
President, chief executive officer

Marc Gorelick, MD, is the president and chief executive officer (CEO) at Children's Minnesota. He is deeply committed to advocacy issues that impact children's health, sustainability and advancing diversity, equity and inclusion.

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Alexandra Rothstein