According to a study done by the Journal of the American Planning Association, impoverished neighborhoods tend to have a higher level of heat exposure caused by climate change.
Environmental Racism and its Ramifications
If you’re a Dallas resident, you have likely noticed a rise in Texas heat. The state, all plain lands and scolding weather, has always been pretty hot. But the temperature has not been this bad before. According to an analysis by the Texas Tribune, record heat in Texas has increased by 510% since 1913. Certain areas of Texas are also more susceptible to record breaking heat than others. For instance, Dallas may experience a lower heat than Corpus Christi. This type of record-breaking heat hurts all, but it statistically can have a larger impact on marginalized communities. In part due to factors such as environmental racism, unequal access to a cleaner environment due to race.
As a local example, look at the Trinity River, also known as “The River of Death.” According to NPR, the Trinity River earned its name due to all of the sewage and waste from slaughterhouses that was thrown in it from local slaughterhouses. The river runs across the Dallas-Fort Worth Area, including the South Dallas area which is 84.6% Black and 12.1% Hispanic.
A complaint from 2022 by the Coalition for Neighborhood Self-Determination also alleges that Dallas allows Black and Brown neighborhoods to be built next to industrial pollutants. They alleged that this violates the Fair Housing Act.
“The City’s industrial zoning unfairly makes dwellings and the financing for the sale and repair of dwellings unavailable for Black and Hispanic neighborhoods while unfairly sparing White non-Hispanic neighborhoods from the same restrictions” the complaint states.
These environmental factors make it difficult for residents to sell their homes, or even obtain loans.
Ramifications of this environmental racism are the adverse effects it has on Black and Brown bodies that reside in those neighborhoods. The residents of Flint, Michigan for instance, faced an increased risk of hypertension for pregnant women, behavioral disorders, hearing issues and even delayed puberty for children according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
It should be noted that these health issues are in addition to the already shortened life expectancy of Black people and the racism present in the health care community which often puts Black people at even greater risk.
Lip Service & No Work
The Trinity River, despite long being named as one of the most polluted rivers in Texas, going back as far as 2010. In an article by the Dallas Morning News dating thirteen years back, they describe the river as “long neglected,” and was reportedly too high in pollutants to be safe for human contact. At the time, there was hope for federal intervention to improve water quality and the Clean Water Authority Restoration Act was even co-sponsored by Rep. Eddie Burnice Johnson in 2005. In fact, then Texas Rep. Allen Vaught advocated for continued pressure on legislatures to improve water quality.
“Two North Texas legislators joined in that call. Rep. Allen Vaught, D-Dallas, said he has opposed legislative attempts to reduce pressure on Texas polluters.”
It is now 2023 and as of 2022 a complaint has been filed due to the pollution in the Trinity River. Despite the hope that was present in 2010, it appears that no transformative change is on the horizon for the Trinity River.
What Changes Can We Make To Fight Environmental Racism?
A possible lane to fight the effects of racism is climate reparations. According to the Brookings Institution, the goal of climate reparations is aimed at a reparative approach rather than through funding. Because the effects of climate change are speeding up (making it increasingly more severe and expensive), offering money won’t provide a fix. This involved land reclamation to Native populations. This would diminish the impacts of climate change on marginalized communities. This can also be done via policy work aimed at addressing the impacts of climate disaster, focusing on housing instability (due to the effects of rising sea levels and increased heat), and income loss rather than (as US policy has done) focusing heavily on the response to climate disaster and prep.
“While crucial, this often fails to address the second- and third-order impacts of climate-related disasters, such as income loss, unemployment, and housing instability.”
As Brookings describes, we need a reparative approach. Implementing affordable health care to even the existing healthcare gap and evening the wealth gap due to inequality. Acknowledging injustice plays a role in tackling climate disaster.
“The United States needs a reparative stance for climate change policy—one that not only addresses the uneven vulnerability to climate impacts that exist along lines of race, but that also reduces the discrepancies in racial wealth, health, and prosperity gaps; ensures equity in the opportunities that stem from climate adaptation; and protects investments in emissions reduction from becoming another vehicle for disenfranchisement. This starts with recognizing the role that exploitation has played and continues to play in climate change and its environmental impacts.”