Growing a new generation of leaders has always been a top priority of the Environmental Justice Movement and HBCUs, especially in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. The key to any successful movement rests with how effective that movement solves "pipeline" challenges. Bringing young people into our movement to address environmental justice and health disparities can only strengthen the movement. Every successful social movement the United States has had a strong youth and student component—as in the case of the movement for civil rights, women rights, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, anti-poverty, anti-war and peace and justice. More youth and students need to be educated to fill the positions that are being rapidly vacated by retiring baby boomers.
Healthy people and healthy places are highly correlated. The poorest of the poor within the United States have the worst health and live in the most degraded environments. Race also maps closely with pollution, unequal protection, and vulnerability. More than 100 studies now link racism to worse health. More than 200 environmental studies also have shown race and class disparities. While much progress has been made over the past three decades, many challenges remain. Unfortunately, pollution and vulnerability still map closely with race and class factors. If a community happens to be a community of color, poor or located on the "wrong side of the tracks," it receives less protection than communities inhabited largely by affluent whites in the suburbs. One of the most important indicators of an individual's health is one's zip code or street address.
A 2007 United Church of Christ Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty study found people of color make up the majority (56%) of the residents living in neighborhoods within two miles of the nation's commercial hazardous waste facilities, nearly double the percentage in areas beyond two miles (30%). The study is based on 413 commercial hazardous waste facilities in the U.S. People of color also make up more than two-thirds (69%) of the residents in neighborhoods with clustered or two or more waste facilities. Forty of 44 states (90%) with hazardous waste facilities have disproportionately high percentages of people of color in host neighborhoods, on average about two times greater than the percentages in non-host areas (44% vs. 23%). Nine out of ten EPA regions have racial disparities in the location of hazardous waste facilities and 105 of 149 metropolitan areas with hazardous waste sites (70%) have disproportionately high percentages of people of color, and 46 of these metro areas (31%) have majority people of color host neighborhoods.
African Americans are 79 percent more likely than whites to live in neighborhoods where industrial pollution is suspected of posing the greatest health danger. In 19 states, African Americans are more than twice as likely as whites to live in neighborhoods where air pollution seems to pose the greatest health danger. A similar pattern holds true for Latinos in 12 states and for Asians in seven states. Although all Americans produce waste, we all don't have the same probability of living near facilities where waste is disposed.
Focusing on PM2.5 and ozone, researchers in a 2012 study found non-Hispanic blacks are " consistently overrepresented " in communities with the poorest air quality. Even money does not insulate some groups from the pollution assaults. For example, African American households with incomes between $50,000 and $60,000 live in neighborhoods that are, on average, more polluted than the average neighborhood in which white households with incomes below $10,000 live. Clearly, these disturbing disparities can't be reduced to a poverty thing. A 2012 Patterns of Pollution study of Metro Atlanta found people of color, people living on low incomes, and families who speak a language other than English are more likely to live near and be affected by pollution than whites and those with higher incomes. It also found that neighborhood blocks with a minority population 50 percent or higher have more than double the number of pollution points than blocks where people of color make up less than 10 percent of the population.
Living with more pollution takes a heavy toll on people of color as seen in higher than average asthma rates among African Americans and Latinos. A May 2012 CDC report, Asthma's Impact on the Nation , found that asthma costs Americans nearly $56 billion per year in medical expenses, $3.8 billion in missed work and school, and $2.1 billion from premature deaths. It also found African American children are two times more likely to have asthma than white children; African Americans are 2-3 times more likely to die from asthma than any other racial or ethnic group. Among racial groups, persons of multiple race had the highest asthma prevalence (14.1%), while Asian persons had the lowest rates (5.2%). Persons of black (11.2%) and American Indian or Alaska Native (9.4%) races had higher asthma prevalence compared with white persons (7.7%). Among Hispanic groups, asthma prevalence was higher among persons of Puerto Rican (16.1%) than Mexican (5.4%) descent.
The health and pollution impacts of climate change are expected to fall disproportionately on the poor. The 2011 Union of Concerned Scientists Rising Temperatures, Worsening Ozone Pollution report found that unchecked global warming could increase ground-level ozone, threatening public health and the economy could cost approximately $5.4 billion in 2020. It also found climate change-induced ozone increases could result in 2.8 million additional serious respiratory illnesses, 5,100 additional infants and seniors hospitalized with serious breathing problems, and 944,000 additional missed school days in the United States in 2020.
The average African American household emits 20 percent fewer greenhouse gases than its white counterparts. The movement to renewable energy is the preferred strategy to a clean energy future for our nation. While renewable energy is being encouraged as the preferred clean strategy, dirty and "risky" energy plants and disposal facilities are being sent to people of color communities. A form of " energy apartheid " has locked out millions of poor people and people of color from the green economy. More than 68 percent of African Americans live within 30 miles of a dirty coal-fired power plant compared with just 56 percent of whites.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, the electric power sector is the largest source of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions by end-use sectors, accounting for 40.6 percent of all energy-related CO2 emissions, followed by the transportation (33.1%). Together, these two sectors generate nearly three-fourths (73.7%) of the CO2 emissions in the United States.
Coal-fired power plants are a major also a major contributor of other pollution, including NOx, SO2, CO2, PM10, VOCs, acid gases, lead, and mercury. Coal-fired power plants shorten nearly 24,000 lives each year. New EPA mercury and air toxics standards and restrictions on cross-state air pollution help communities breathe easier. The new standards could prevent as many as 17,000 premature deaths and 11,000 heart attacks, 120,000 cases of childhood asthma symptoms, and 11,000 cases of acute bronchitis among children each year; avert more than 12,000 emergency room visits and hospital admissions annually; and lead to 850,000 fewer days of work missed due to health problems. EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to reduce power plant pollution, the American public and American businesses will see up to $13 in health and economic benefits. The total health and economic benefits of this new standard are estimated to be as much as $140 billion annually. A 2011 report from a team of Harvard Medical School researchers estimated the “hidden cost of coal” on the economy at $345 billion a year.
ion is the largest single source of air pollution in the United States—causing over half of the carbon monoxide, over a third of the nitrogen oxides, and almost a quarter of the hydrocarbons in our atmosphere. Greening our transportation system makes economic, environmental and health sense. The American Public Health Association (APHA) reports the hidden health costs of transportation (physical inactivity, rising asthma and obesity rates in both adults and children, and degraded air quality) amount to $164.2 billion each year, or roughly $1,051 per person annually. More than 30 health studies have linked diesel emissions to increased incidences of various cancers. Diesel emissions may be responsible for 125,000 cancer cases in the U.S. each year. Becoming less auto-dependent and shifting 60 percent of new growth to compact patterns would save 79 million tons of CO2 annually by 2030. It is time to close the clean energy gap that contributes to the climate gap in the United States.