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.