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How Communities of Color are Affected by Climate Change

Communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Discriminatory policies, infrastructure, and wealth disparity all play a role in their vulnerability to extreme heat, natural disasters, and more. Here’s how. 

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Discriminatory policies 

In the 1930s, “redlining” was used to concentrate communities of color into less desirable neighborhoods. It was outlawed in the 1960s, but its effects are still felt today.   

For example, communities of color are more likely to live in areas that are vulnerable to flooding with rising tides and extreme heat due to the lack of trees and greenspace. Their neighborhoods are also more likely to be very close to landfills, toxic waste sites, and factories that pump out toxic air, which greatly impacts their health. 

Poor Air Quality 

Factories, landfills, and toxic waste sites all have an impact on air quality, which can impact community health. Here are how some communities are being affected: 

  • Over a million Black residents are facing a “cancer risk above the EPA’s level of concern” according to a study at Princeton University.
  • As reported by the EPA, predominantly Black communities are 34% more likely to live in areas with the highest increases in childhood asthma diagnoses.  
  • Around 13.4% of Black children suffer from asthma compared to only 7.3% of white children.  

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Extreme Heat  

Because of rising temperatures, communities of color in urban areas with little green space are under risk of the “heat island” effect. Heat Islands are pockets of heat in cities that lack trees and green space that cool the air. 

These extreme temperatures can lead to serious heat-related illnesses such as heatstroke and even death. Here are some risks that are affecting communities of color: 

  • According to the EPA, Hispanic and Latino communities are more likely to work in industries that are vulnerable to extreme heat and are 43% more likely to live in areas with high reductions in work hours due to extreme heat. 
  • Communities that are exposed to extreme heat face higher energy and air conditioning costs, making it even harder to stay cool – especially for low-income communities. 

Natural Disasters 

Hurricanes, heavy storms, and floods are becoming even more dangerous due to climate change. And because of redlining, a lot of vulnerable areas in storm zones are low-income communities of color.  

These are ways that these communities are being affected: 

  • Because of poor infrastructure, flooding and wind damage are much more devastating in low-income neighborhoods. 
  • Evacuation is more difficult and less likely in low-income communities due to high evacuation costs. 
  • Disaster relief aid often is not equally distributed after a disaster, meaning communities of color lack the help and funding they need. 
  • According to the University of South Carolina, African Americans and Latinos are more likely to face PTSD after a natural disaster due to physical trauma and property loss.