The extreme weather patterns and rising sea levels caused by climate change have devastating implications worldwide. But in the U.S., the threat is greatest to the health and vitality of low-income minority groups like African Americans and Hispanics. Minority communities have historically experienced environmental inequality more than any other group of Americans, especially through exposure to pollution, lack of access to high-quality resources (air, food, water), and economic constraints that confine them to substandard housing and geography. As one report by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights states:
Even though they are among the worst affected, the effects of the changing climate are bad enough in themselves — more frequent hurricanes and droughts, burning temperatures, new plagues of diseases and worse floods, for instance. But the general failure to recognize and respond to minorities’ resulting problems greatly exacerbates their suffering.
In recent years, federal agencies have begun to measure the significance of these inequalities. One 2008 study by NASA revealed that as a result of the “urban heat island effect” — a physical phenomena that makes urban areas hotter than outlying regions — African Americans are 150 to 200 percent more likely to die of heat-related deaths than whites. Contributing factors include lack of air conditioning, poor ventilation and poorer baseline health.
And Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, says that poorer health overall is one of the most significant issues that minorities grapple with, especially when facing environmental extremes like soaring or freezing temperatures. Says Benjamin:
The fact is that low-income communities, especially those of color, start with a health deficit. No one does well with bad air quality, but when you have poor health status, you’re going to be more at risk.
In addition, simply where low-income minorities groups live is a crucial part of the inequality equation. For instance, according to the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Policy at NYU, of the 300,000 New Yorkers directly hit by the storm surge created by Hurricane Sandy, fully a third were low income and living in subsidized housing.
One of the most outspoken advocates for minorities affected by climate change is Dr. J. Marshall Shepherd, professor and director of the atmospheric sciences program at the University of Georgia. He joins Michael Shure inside “The War Room” tonight to look at some of the critical issues that minority communities face. Plus, Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, weighs in on gun control reform. Also joining us will be David Shuster, to talk about the ongoing issues with the budget, Charlie Pierce of Esquire magazine and Christine Pelosi, chairwoman of the California Democratic Party Women’s Caucus.