Not only are Black and Brown communities, as well as neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic status, disproportionately impacted by climate change, but these communities are not as readily able to adapt to mitigate the impacts climate change has on health.
There are multiple reasons why Black and Brown communities, as well as neighborhoods with lower socioeconomic status, are being disproportionately impacted by climate change, said Eva R. Parker, MD, associate professor of dermatology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and president of the Nashville Dermatologic Society.
In addition, these communities are not as readily able to adapt to mitigate the impacts climate change has on health, she noted.
Research shows that already marginalized communities are the most likely to be impacted by climate change. How are we seeing this already and what can be done to address or minimize the impact to these communities and their health?
This is a really important point. And thank you for asking this question because it's not talked about enough. Within the United States, we see that our Black and Brown communities, as well as our neighborhoods that have lower socioeconomic status are disproportionately impacted. There are multiple reasons.
In urban areas, this is largely due to urban heat island effect. In areas where there's lots of concrete and less trees, you have hotter temperatures. Many of those neighborhoods coincide with neighborhoods that were previously redlined in the 1930s. We see that today, 90 years later, those neighborhoods remain Black, predominantly, and often have lower socioeconomic status. And the temperature differences between those urban neighborhoods and nearby neighborhoods that were marked “green” on those maps many decades ago, is really extraordinary.
In my hometown of Nashville, it's about 8-and-a-half degrees Fahrenheit difference in daily temperatures, especially in the summer months. We know what a critical impact heat has on many bodily functions, including brain health, skin health, cardiovascular health, kidney health.
The other important aspect is air pollution. Many of these neighborhoods are also near highways, industrial facilities, toxic waste sites, and there is a disproportionate exposure to air pollution. One prior study looked at air pollution as a burden and a deficit, and it found that in the United States, White people breathe about 17% less air pollution than they've actually generated. But on the other side of that coin, Black and Hispanic communities are breathing about 50% to 60% more air pollution than they were responsible for generating.
When you factor in that already there are health disparities, including limited access to health care and fewer resources, these communities are not as readily able to adapt, or to mitigate effects of climate change.