Lessons for ecologists from the NAACP's Environmental and Climate Justice Program
Climate Change is a threat multiplier for communities already suffering from myriad environmental and other assaults. Not only are communities of color and low income communities disproportionately impacted by the drivers of climate change including landfills, incinerators, vehicle pollution, and various plants (coal, cement, oil refineries, biomass), high occupancy livestock farms, etc., but they are also more vulnerable to and impacted by the results of climate change, including disasters, sea level rise, and reduction in agricultural/food production. All of this is in the context of communities besieged with multiple socioeconomic issues including double-digit unemployment, utility cut-offs, hunger and obesity, other health issues, etc. overlaid with political disenfranchisement, driven by corporate control of the system, that makes advocating for community needs challenging.
As a case in point, “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People” is a systematic study, conducted by the NAACP and partners, of 378 coal-fired power plants in the United States, in which each plant is evaluated in terms of its environmental justice performance (EJP), i.e., how it affects low-income communities and communities of color. A score was assigned to each plant based on five factors: sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions; the total population living within three miles of the plant(s); and the median income and percentage of people of color among the total population living within three miles of the plant(s). The study found that coal fired power plants were disproportionately located in communities of color. The study also found that toxins emitted from those plants, such as mercury, arsenic, lead, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, are tied to health conditions that are elevated in communities of color such as asthma hospitalizations and death, lung disease, heart disease, attention deficit disorder and other conditions.
Complex and interconnected problems require comprehensive and holistic solutions that simultaneously combine medium/long term macro-level policy change and more immediate place based innovation to advance local self-reliance in addressing community needs. The path for policy change which includes supporting energy efficiency standards and renewable portfolio standards, as well as passing local ordinances on clean air, increasing rulemaking under the Clean Air Act, and improving monitoring and evaluation and implementation of existing measures such as the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
This session will facilitate dialogue with ecologists about the unique role academic partners can play in enhancing the array research studies on these interconnected issues to contribute to identification of sustainable solutions.