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The three-fold fight of environmental justice: Black advocates are already providing solutions, now they need support

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Environmental justice issues are an “interwoven tapestry” of entities and people working together to solve problems within the United States. A new report from the Chisholm Legacy Project analyzed impacts of climate change on Black communities and reviewed organizations working to solve them. The report concluded that for every problem, there are a handful of potential solutions and several frontline communities already leading the way — what is needed is “direct” and “robust” support for those doing the work. 

Black communities contribute the least to climate change but are more likely to experience adverse health effects and be less prepared for increasing natural disasters. Black Americans and low-income communities are 75% more likely to be “fence-line” communities, or communities near commercial facilities that produce pollution. Additionally, they are more likely to breathe polluted air, drink contaminated water and have compromised access to food and reliable energy. 

Yet, Black communities locally and globally are leading local food problems, resilience planning and democracy initiatives. 

The report lays out a myriad of ways that Black communities are impacted by climate change while highlighting those efforts leading climate solutions. 

MORE FROM THE RECORDER: Local farm works to end food deserts

Climate disaster will increase anti-Black hate & violence

As white nationalism continues to be a major concern and hate messages spread online, system shocks like climate disasters will only exacerbate division, the report said. Black people are the target of hate crime more than any other racial group, according to the Center for Public Integrity. Black women who are public figures are often targeted with hate and threats of violence.

Racist narratives and differential characterization fuels behavior that incur deadly results. During Hurricane Katrina, two images appeared in Yahoo! News on the same day. The photos showed two sets of people with very different captions — one photo caption frames a Black man as “looting” while a white couple was depicted as “finding” supplies. Such narratives fuel behavior that can incur deadly results, the report said.  

Photo depicting two news articles with different captions. News photographs captions described a Black man “looting” and a white couple “Finding” supplies during Hurricane Katrina.
News photographs captions described a Black man “looting” and a white couple “Finding” supplies during Hurricane Katrina (Screenshot/ Snopes)

Chemicals from polluting facilities, located overwhelmingly in Black communities, impact behavior and, in some cases, have been known to influence violence. Toxic metals like lead impact brain function and decision making, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“Instead of detoxifying communities and offering treatment/rehabilitation, with an understanding of this linkage between toxic communities and behavior, people are instead incarcerated,” the report said. 

On top of the prison industrial complex, prisons pose a further risk to human rights violations and environmental justice. One-third of state and federal prisons are located within three miles of locations known to be polluted with hazardous materials, according to the report. 

Incarcerated persons are particularly vulnerable to being impacted by extreme weather, such as flooding and extreme heat. Incarcerated labor is often used to fight wildfires and environmental cleanups, further imposing risks to pollutants and hazardous conditions. 
Organizations like IDOC Watch and Fight Toxic Prisons work in real time to uphold incarcerated individuals’ civil rights by monitoring the Indiana Department of Corrections with a close lens, supporting prison reforms and enacting proactive policy. IDOC Watch supports the National Prison Strike Movement and upholds the demands of the movement. 

Education injustice

More than a quarter of Black children attend schools affected by air pollution, according to the report. Over 12,000 schools are within one mile of a toxic facility, resulting in a decline in housing values, harder learning conditions and lessened tax revenues for schools. Black children suffer from asthma caused by oil and gas pollution, which contributes to more missed school days and adverse health impacts, such as nose bleeds, headaches and respiratory irritation, according to data from the Clean Air Task Force and the U.S. Census Bureau. 

More frequent and intense weather events disrupt education nationwide and lack of proper air and heating create uncomfortable conditions where students lag behind. Americans are experiencing more hot days than ever, resulting in school closures, canceled extracurriculars and more failed tests, according to the report. Researchers found there is a correlation between poor standardized test scores and hot days. 

Since 2011, the Kheprw Institute (KI) has grown to serve over 200 individuals through a variety of agriculture, social and community programs. KI works with national and local organizations to address the need for quality-of-life goals and grassroot solutions to community challenges. KI focuses on “self mastery” and the need to develop people’s capacity to critically think and act to improve themselves and communities. The Kheprw Institute recently joined the Climate Justice Alliance to advance climate-based solutions. 

Mental, physical health compromised 

Black Americans disproportionately experience adverse health outcomes as a result of toxic exposure, pollution and natural disasters. 

Natural disasters often displace Black Americans permanently, make recovery efforts difficult and disrupt communities’ mutual aid efforts. More Black Americans experience climate related anxiety on top of compounded trauma and chronic racism, resulting in poorer mental and physical health for many. 

“Disproportionate death in the Black community — whether from COVID-19, infant mortality or police violence — is one of the most alarming consequences of institutional racism,” public health expert Stacy Scott said. “African Americans not only disproportionately face death, they also must deal with an insurmountable amount of grief and mourning.” 

Structural inequities interweave the tapestry of complexity when it comes to climate change and other added stressors. 

Because Black households are more likely to live near a toxic facility, they are also more likely to experience health effects caused by them. Contaminants such as lead, fine particulate matter and more show up in the body and affect functions. Black Americans are more likely to live in cancer clusters and have higher cancer rates than white Americans. Coupled with a lack of access to quality health care, the lack of protections for Black Americans is exacerbated, the report said. 

The lack of protections for Black Americans is exacerberated when coupled with lack of access to quality health care, the report said.

Flanner House is a local organization working to address food insecurity and empower self-sufficiency through educational, social and economic resources. Flanner House often hosts a variety of workshops to educate Indianapolis communities and improve quality of life for residents. Under the direction of Brandon Crosby and Sibeko Jywanza, Flanner House began a community-focused farm to address food justice. The farm provides employment opportunities, health and affordable produce to the Northwest Side of Indianapolis. 

Read the full report here to find more Black-led pathways to Climate Justice.

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847 or by email jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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