A new report from the federal government confirmed that Black people face the highest risk of deaths from the effects of climate change that result in high temperatures and natural disasters not unlike what parts of the country have recently seen from Hurricane Ida.
While the findings in the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) new report may not come as a surprise — seeing as Black people are routinely disproportionately on the wrong end of the proverbial stick — the numbers are jarring and show that things are trending in the wrong direction.
The root cause of the heightened climate change risks faced by Black people is all about their locations. While all “socially vulnerable populations” disproportionately face higher risks of climate change, the EPA report found that Black people are bearing the brunt of it.
Specifically, the report found that Black folks are 40% more likely than other groups to live in places where extreme temperatures will cause more deaths.
The world has likely seen a variation of that truth play out in real-time with Hurricane Ida in Louisiana in a similar fashion to Hurricane Katrina 16 years ago.
“… One of the underlying lessons of this report is that so many communities that are heavily Black and African American find themselves in the way of some of the worst impacts of climate change,” Joe Goffman, acting head of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation said, “as was the case with Katrina and, we may find, turns out to be the case with Ida.”
Because we are less than a week removed from Ida, it was not immediately clear which demographics were affected the most down south as well as in the northeast, where dozens were reported dead from unprecedented weather remnants this week. However, if history was any indication, the victims likely lived in low-income areas typically populated by Black and brown people.
Besides natural disasters, Black people are already more likely (34%) than any other group to live in places with elevated cases of child asthma because of climate change. Segregated communities have also been linked to environment-caused ailments like childhood asthma.
Some other troubling findings from the new EPA report about climate change and Black people compared to people from other backgrounds:
- Black people 65 and older are much more (41% to 60%) likely to die from pollution that worsens as temperatures rise
- Black people are 41% to 59% more likely to die based on air quality.
- Black youth are 34% to 40% more likely to suffer from asthma based on rising temperature levels.
The report came nearly six months after the Senate confirmed Michael Regan as the first Black man to be administrator of the EPA. The HBCU graduate came into the position as an expert in environmental justice, a major part of the reason why President Joe Biden nominated Regan for the job.
One of the first steps to dismantling the environmental policies that have disproportionately affected the country’s Black and brown populations was releasing the report.
Regan has experience confronting some of the biggest environmental issues facing the United States, including climate change and cleaning up coal ash, the latter being a big problem in North Carolina that also affects many other states.
It was Regan’s “work with disadvantaged communities” that “helped win him” the EPA nomination, the Washington Post reported late last year while citing a source who was granted anonymity.
“Regan realizes that America’s environmental laws and policies must, first and foremost, protect the most vulnerable,” the source told the Post at the time. “Growing up with asthma in eastern North Carolina, Regan saw toxic pollution, agricultural waste and environmental destruction being concentrated near communities of color and low-income communities.”
Regan is also a graduate of North Carolina A&T University — a historically Black college — a relevant factor for his leadership at the EPA.
The task to educate Black and brown people in America about the terror climate change is afflicting upon them and their communities has been somewhat of a heavy lift. That was due in no small part to a climate-denying president whose claims that the nation’s air has never been cleaner was emphatically disproved by the EPA, which said pollution had actually increased since President Barack Obama left office. And since Trump has made no secret of his disdain for working-class Black and brown folks, he and his administration have been complicit in what one activist called “slower killers” in describing climate change.