The roots of the COVID pandemic and of the climate crisis are the same: the separation of people by fear and division, using racialized violence, all in service of profit rather than care for our lives and our earth.
Right now we are all seeing how racism and economic inequality shape the experience of the pandemic. The virus itself is an equal opportunity danger but who gets sick, which communities are hit hardest and who dies are drastically affected by race and class privilege.
Is this fair? Is this right? Is this how the world should work?
In exactly the same unequal way, different communities are disparately affected by climate crisis. Communities that already have insecure housing, employment, transportation, energy and healthcare are also most threatened by wild weather extremes, overheating, flooding, pollution and are most excluded from having a voice in shaping solutions. When we address the roots of both the pandemic and of climate crisis, we can transform our world.
A roundup of articles examining the connection between climate and COVID-19 in the United States and around the world.
How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering
Brad Plumer and Nadja Popovich – NYTimes – 8/24/20
Nearly 100 years ago federal officials identified neighborhoods as risky investments based on the color of the residents’ skin. These neighborhoods were outlined in red and this policy had a major impact on poverty levels in those areas – and on the number of trees, parks and other green areas. Today, temperatures in formerly red-lined neighborhoods can be 5° higher than wealthier, whiter neighborhoods. In Philadelphia the difference is 9°. The health consequences of this difference is serious and leads to increased rates of heart disease, asthma and death.
What Happens When a Wildfire Meets a Pandemic
Lydia O’Connor – Mother Jones – 8/20/20
The COVID 19 pandemic is bad enough, but add to that a record number of wildfires in the western US and the situation becomes far worse. Providing safe shelter to evacuees is much more challenging when it’s necessary to keep people properly distanced. Breathing in smoke from the fires, even hundreds of miles away, compromises the lungs putting those who get the virus at greater risk of developing a severe case.
America’s Rich Used to Move Around More Than the Poor. When COVID Landed, That Flipped.
Matt Simon – Mother Jones – 8/8/20
The coronavirus has affected wealthy Americans and low-income Americans in different ways. One surprising finding is that wealthy Americans are travelling far less than low income Americans. While the reasons are unclear, it’s likely to have something to do with the fact that higher paying jobs are often more easily done remotely. Lower paying jobs – grocery store clerks, car mechanics, day care workers must be completed on site. This disparity puts lower income Americans at greater risk of exposure to the virus.
What Racism Smells Like: Ravaged by Covid-19, Polluted Communities Demand Environmental Justice
Sharon Lerner – The Intercept – 8/8/20
Low income and minority neighborhoods are exposed to more pollution than whiter and more affluent communities. And their health suffers for it. While this issue has long been ignored and has been made worse by policies of the Trump administration, there is cause for hope. In New Jersey, there is increased support for a “cumulative impact bill.” This would require government regulators to consider pollution not just from the facility applying for a permit but also already existing pollution sources. In Louisiana, local communities now have the power to reject tax breaks for industrial facilities. And nationally, Democratic candidates have made the environment a higher priority than ever before.
A Hurricane, a Pandemic, and Trump: The Triple Crisis Is Barreling Down on Florida
Rebecca Leber – Mother Jones – 8/1/20
It’s not easy to prepare for a hurricane while battling a pandemic. And it’s not easy to deal with a pandemic with a hurricane on the way. This is what Florida had to do in August 2020 when Hurricane Isaias was heading towards that state in the middle of record numbers of COVID-19 cases. With the climate crisis worsening year by year, we can expect more and more disasters happening all at once.
Pollution Is Killing Black Americans. This Community Fought Back.
Nessie Johnson – NYTimes – 7/28/20
Residents of the Grays Ferry neighborhood fought for years to close the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery. This largely Black American community has suffered higher rates of cancer, asthma and other illnesses than other parts of the city. The article profiles two women and their involvement with the grassroots organization Philly Thrive.
Christina Hemphill Fuller: How Trees Can Help Us Fight a Pandemic
Rebecca Leber – Mother Jones – 7/27/20
The United States was not prepared for the devastation of the COVID 19. What can we do to be better prepared for the next pandemic? Strengthening environmental regulations will reduce air pollution which is known to increase the severity of the virus. We need to more fairly distribute exposure to polluting factories and power plants and not locate them predominantly in communities of color. Ordinary citizens need to be given the tools to monitor air pollution levels in their neighborhoods. Buildings should be made more energy efficient. And finally – trees. Not only do they provide beauty to our streets and parks they filter out pollutants and give us cleaner air.
Coronavirus ban on utility shutoffs in Pa. stays in place after PUC vote ends in a tie
Andrew Maykuth – Inquirer – 7/16/20
In July, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (the state agency that oversees utilities such as gas, water and electricity) voted along party lines regarding a moratorium on service shut-offs in place since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. The two Democratic members voted to continue the moratorium and the two Republican members voted to lift it. Due to the tie, the moratorium was kept in place.
Millions of Americans Can’t Afford Water, as Bills Rise 80% in a Decade
Nina Lakhani and Juweek Adolphe – Consumer Reports – 7/10/20
Increasingly, poor and working-class families are facing unaffordable water bills. A water bill that is more than 4% of household income is considered unaffordable – in Philadelphia this includes 25% of households. These families face shut offs, and even the loss of their homes due to liens put on their properties. There are multiple reasons including aging infrastructure that requires increased maintenance (think of all the water main breaks in Philadelphia) and environmental and health threats. The situation is made worse by an ongoing decline in federal aid for municipal water systems.
COVID-19 and Environmental Justice: A Call to Action
Collective Statement – 7/7/20
In this open statement, a broad coalition of environmental justice groups and activists outlines interconnected crises in the Black, Brown and Indigenous communities. High rates of death from COVID 19 and high levels of pollution are linked to issues of systemic racism, economic injustice, a broken criminal justice system and poor health care. A key to understanding these problems is the denial of self-determination to Black, Brown and Indigenous communities.
The Connections Between Race, Pollution, and Covid-19
Rebecca Leber – Undark – 6/30/20
The COVID 19 pandemic is a public health emergency and yet the Trump administration is rolling back environmental regulations that are designed to protect public health. This affects people of color to a much greater degree than the general population. Data from the CDC show that while 18% of the US population is Black, 23% of the deaths are among Black patients. And income doesn’t seem to be a factor. Wealthier Black people are dying at higher rates than less wealthy White people.
Former county health chief: Racism common factor in deaths in ’95 Chicago heat wave, COVID-19
Maudlyne Ihejirika – Chicago SunTimes – 6/28/20
The Chicago heat wave of 1995 and the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 are public health emergencies 25 years apart but with the same results. In both situations, people of color and people in low income communities suffered higher death rates than people in whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. During theChicago heat wave the temperature was over 100° for six days in a row. Over 700 people died – mostly elderly, mostly poor and mostly African American. Sound familiar? The same injustices of systemic racism underlie the effects both the heat wave and the pandemic. It is well past time to change that system.
Scientists Pin Blame for Some of Coronavirus Deaths on Air Pollution, PFAs, and Other Chemicals
Sharon Lerner – The Intercept – 6/26/20
Exposure to air pollution has been widely reported to increase death rates in people who get Covid 19. But what about other chemicals in the environment? Scientists now have evidence that chemicals found in common household products also contribute to mortality rates. BPA, phthalates and PFAS are used in cookware, plastic packaging, nail polish and make up. These chemicals are associated with diabetes, obesity, lung disease and asthma. Most Covid 19 patients who die from the virus have at least one underlying health condition. Removal of these chemicals from our homes may help us survive future viruses.
Environmental justice means racial justice, say activists
Nina Lakhani and Jonathan Wattsin – Guardian – 6/18/20
Systemic racism affects all aspects of life resulting in an intersection of many issues. Poor air and water quality in minority neighborhoods leads to increased health problems which reduces income levels which are made worse by inferior education. The environmental justice movement, which started in the 1980’s, has been the subject of renewed interest. The National Black Environmental Justice Network (NBEJN) is re-energized and is working to improve the lives of communities of color by improving their environment. Similar efforts are taking place in the UK.
Connecting the Dots Between Environmental Injustice and the Coronavirus
Katherine Bagley – Yale Environment 360 – 5/7/20
Low income neighborhoods and communities of color suffer from higher pollution levels and higher death rates from Covid 19. The connection is clear. Power plants, factories and refineries are much more likely to be located in these communities and with these facilities comes air pollution. Chronic exposure to this dirty air causes increased rates of respiratory and heart disease. When Covid 19 is layered on top of these illnesses the result is higher death rates.
Why COVID-19 is an Environmental Justice Issue Too
NowThis News Video – 4/11/20
People of color, indigenous communities and low-income areas get infected with and die from COVID 19 at much greater rates than whiter, wealthier neighborhoods. This short video highlights the underlying injustice of decades of exposure to air pollution and the resulting health problems. To make matters worse, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) relaxed enforcement of environmental regulations during the spring and summer of 2020. We need to reimagine what a more equitable system would look like for all communities.
Episode 3: COVID-19 and climate justice
Emily Atkin – HEATED Podcast – 4/8/20
“Heated” is a podcast that explores the intersection of COVID 19 and the climate crisis. This episode examines the issue that African Americans get the virus more frequently than the general population, they get it more severely and they are more likely to die from it.
Higher Coronavirus Mortality Rates For Black Americans And People Exposed To Air Pollution
Alexandra Sternlicht – Forbes – 4/7/20
Black Americans are more likely to die of COVID 19 – in Chicago Black Americans account for 72% of the fatalities. Scientists believe this is due to several factors: long term exposure to high levels of air pollution, a higher incidence of pre-existing conditions, lower rates of health insurance coverage and implicit bias affecting access to proper treatment.