by Kyle Yu '22
During the expansion of the Interstate Highways in the 1950s and 60s, highways were planned through cities. Those who had money and political power, like people in Greenwich Village, were successful in stopping highways from being constructed in their neighborhoods. But poorer black communities did not have the same power and highways were built right through. Entire neighborhoods were destroyed to build these highways. For instance, in the city of Detroit, the formerly thriving neighborhoods of Paradise Valley and Black Bottom were demolished, replaced with an interchange and highways.
Just how bad are highways for these communities? In Orlando, a predominately black housing project in the Parramore neighborhood is surrounded by three highways. Soot and dust fill the air here. 41% of children in the neighborhood suffer from a chronic disease. This community was created deliberately, as highways followed railroad routes which had already segregated Orlando.
In general, people of color are exposed to more transportation pollution than white people. Race has been shown to be the main factor in whether or not a community is exposed, not income.
What can we do? We should advocate for policies which take cars off the road and expand public transportation. We should also tear down highways and replace them with greenspace to help mitigate the lack of parks in these communities. Lastly, we must amplify the voices of people in these communities and resist destructive highways.
Beep beep! Highways have divided and destroyed marginalized communities. People of color are much more likely to live near highways and suffer from transportation pollution than white people.
https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/florida-poor-black-neighborhood-air-pollution_us_5a663a67e4b0e5630072746e Huffington Post
https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/sep/14/us-people-of-color-still-more-likely-to-be-exposed-to-pollution-than-white-people The Guardian
by Cathy Wang, '21
Issues of environmental justice aren’t far removed from our own community as students at Stanford. Only an hour away from Stanford lies the East Bay Refinery Corridor, also known, perhaps more accurately, as the “sacrifice zone” for petrochemical industry sites. The majority residents in this region are low-income and/or people of color, primarily black and Latinx, as well as Asian American and Pacific Islander and Native American.
Out of the various refineries in this area, the Chevron Richmond Refinery in particular has the largest capacity and emits the most hazardous air pollutants. Over the past years, the Chevron Refinery has several incidents of explosions and fires, injuring workers, heavily polluting the air in the surrounding community, and leading to the hospitalization of many residents. In addition to these multiple incidents, Chevron has been repeatedly denounced and penalized for unsafe equipment and lack of worker protection, demonstrating their indifference toward the wellbeing of their workers. Residents living near the refinery have a higher than normal asthma rate, with the likelihood of developing asthma increasing with the length of their residency.
We can learn a lot from the example of Richmond. First of all, the residents of Richmond were able to use legal, electoral, and political means to stop Chevron’s expansion project in Richmond and create new legislation to increase Chevron’s compensation to the community. This provides a model of action for other communities suffering environmental injustice. Second, the situation in Richmond reveals the need for more awareness of environmental injustice and inter-group organization and solidarity among various environmental and social groups in order to fight back against corporations with more resources and political power.
by Richard Coca, '22
This blog post is the second in our series "Missing from the Mainstream" that amplifies stories that are often ignored by the mainstream news.
Question: How does the urban island effect intersect with environmental justice?
Answer: According to the PEW Research Center, social trends show that urban and suburban counties embody and will increasingly become more racially and ethnically diverse than rural counties. With the global rise in temperature, the urban island effect will lead to a disproportionate effect on communities of color. A USC Climate Gap report found that “in Los Angeles, African Americans are twice as likely to die in a heat wave, and suffer from more heat-related stress and illnesses.” Urban centers have less tree cover to reduce heat and more concrete to capture it. Considering that communities of color historically had less to access to air conditioning and transportation away from the city, the urban island effect poses a significant risk to the most vulnerable.
Why should environmental justice advocates care? We should care because it’s a matter of life and death. Recent studies concluded that climate change will catalyze an increase in heat-related deaths for years to come. Cities tend to be on average 10 degrees warmer than suburban areas and heat waves will disproportionately impact people of color. While heat-related deaths should be prevented in all communities, special attention should be brought to communities of color considering that solutions to environmental problems should at the very least embody inclusivity and deliver racial justice.
What can we do? Climate change and racial justice are not separate issue. Nationally and locally, neighborhoods most at risk should be identified. With talk of a Green New Deal in Congress, policy makers should write legislation targeting people of color and the poor. These two groups will suffer most from reduced or shifting job opportunities as a result of climate change. Creating a green economy can create an opportunity for our most vulnerable. Advocates should also advocate for more funding for communities at risk so that central air conditioning and community pools can be implemented.
“Climate Change Indicators: Heat-Related Deaths.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, 11 Oct. 2017, www.epa.gov/climate-indicators/climate-change-indicators-heat-related-deaths.
Frosch, Rachel, et al. “The Climate Gap: Inequalities in How Climate Change Hurts Americans & How to Close the Gap.” USC Dornsife, Program for Environmental and Regional Equity, May 2009, college.usc.edu/geography/ESPE/perepub.html.
Mitchell, Travis. “Demographic and Economic Trends in Urban, Suburban and Rural Communities.” Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project, 22 May 2018, www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/05/22/demographic-and-economic-trends-in-urban-suburban-and-rural-communities/.
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This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.