It seems almost absurd to initiate a conversation about unequal access to green infrastructure in a country so wealthy – and yet here we are. How do we resolve the health disparities that result from environmental injustice in this country? We are living in a climate emergency, one that hits communities of color harder than others, but the casual observer wouldn’t be aware of it from mainstream media reporting.
While people of color are most vulnerable to the effects of global climate change, they are least represented in mainstream media environment stories. Environmental reporters and correspondents writing the stories have an overwhelmingly white perspective. The twin drinking water crises of Flint, Michigan (2015) and Newark, NJ (2018) were two of the most underreported environmental stories of the last decade as well as the most important. And it is no surprise that race played a large factor in the underreporting. In Newark, for example, some of the lead pipes transporting drinking water are from the 1880s. It is hard to imagine that level of sheer municipal neglect would have occurred if Newark were not a majority-minority city. It is 50.13% African American and 28.58% white.
Further, consider the excised image of Vanessa Nakate by the Associated Press. Nakate is a Ugandan climate activist. Last year, she was cut from a photo of prominent environmentalists — including Greta Thurnberg, Loukina Tille, Luisa Neubauer and Isabelle Axelsson — by the prominent US news agency. As if that wasn’t an egregious enough an editorial error, other news agencies, including Reuters, misidentified Nakate as Zambian activist Natasha Mwansa. “We don’t deserve this,” Nakate told The Guardian. “Africa is the least emitter of carbons, but we are the most affected by the climate crisis. You erasing our voices won’t change anything. You erasing our stories won’t change anything.”
As the World Health Organization reminds us, deaths from ambient air pollution are increasing. India is perhaps the most tragic case study. A quarter of all of global cases occur in the poorest households in India, where smoke from burning wood, dung and other solid fuels create ambient air pollution inside the domicile. Roughly 70% of the Indian population still depend on solid fuels for cooking, despite the government’s promotion of the use of liquefied petroleum gas. Who will write that story?
But how about some good news. Here in America, as the bipartisan Infrastructure Deal edges towards approval, it should be lauded for what it is — the largest investment in environmental justice in American history. The Biden administration’s attempt to resolve environmental injustice through policy should not be overlooked. “The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal will make the most significant investment in addressing legacy pollution in American history by funding a cleanup effort that will create good-paying union jobs and advance economic and environmental justice in communities hit hard by pollution,” says the official White House Twitter feed.