Joe Biden has promised to uproot what it describes such as systemic racism that has caused certain communities “disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental pollutants for decades.”
The need for this is becoming clearer. The roots of systemic racism run so stubbornly deep in the US, recent research has revealed, that global warming harms Black and Latino children even before they are born, as well as in the early years of their lives.
“Unfortunately, many children will be scarred for life because of what their mothers are exposed to, what affects the brain, the lungs, the pancreas, everything,” said Susan Pacheco, associate professor at the University Health Sciences Center from Texas and co-author research published last summer that found that pregnant women exposed to heat and air pollution have a higher risk of adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Analysis of dozens of medical studies found women of color, particularly black Women and their babies are more likely to suffer from low birth weights, premature births, and stillbirths due to climate hazards. High temperatures can put stress on women and their unborn children, while heat can also react with pollutants from cars and power plants to create ozone, a ground-level pollutant that can cause a number of problems. of health.
“This contamination causes placental inflammation and affects the baby,” Pacheco said. “This can cause impacts in childhood but also bad results when they are adults, such as heart and kidney disease. Even what we would consider limited exposures can affect a baby’s development. “
The climate crisis is shaping the lives of children of color and black before they take their first breath, but it doesn’t stop there. Once a black or Latino child is born, they will most likely live in a neighborhood that gets even hotter than the nearby, whiter suburbs. Researchers have found that in US cities like New York, Dallas, and Miami, poorer areas with more residents of color can be up to 20 ° F hotter in summer than richer, whiter districts in the same city. .
This is largely because less affluent colored neighborhoods have far fewer green spaces or tree-lined streets to provide a cool respite on hot days. Instead, a young black child will likely take their first steps in a neighborhood covered largely by paved surfaces, such as asphalt, which absorb and radiate heat on sunny days. “Mothers here in Texas tell me that they don’t know what to do because they can’t leave their children outside in the summer,” Pacheco said. “The heat is relentless.”
Long-term exposure to heat can increase stress levels and have various impacts on the body, said Vivek Shandas, an urban studies expert at Portland State University, who co-authored an article on how neighborhood demographics relate to city heat. “So most of the people who die in heat waves are communities of color,” he said. “There is a direct relationship.”
This heat disparity between poor, black neighborhoods and rich, white neighborhoods is no accident. Shandas and his fellow researchers found that today’s hottest areas overlap with places that were historically marked in red, a practice that dates back to the 1930s when the federal government rated the risk of different neighborhoods for real estate development. Race played an important role, with black areas routinely considered “dangerous” and excluded from federally backed mortgages and other investments, depriving them of amenities compared to wealthy white areas with green lines.
“This means that the modern experience of what your life is like in many aspects has nothing to do with you, it is due to something that happened a long time ago with acts of segregation that were codified through planning policies,” Shandas said. “These systemic biases have created precarious landscapes for communities of color and low-income communities.”
Many young people of color growing up in these neighborhoods are unaware of the different vulnerabilities to global warming, according to Shandas, who recounted an experiment in which high school students in Yonkers, New York and Austin, Texas, were given infrared cameras that can measure temperature. and asked to take pictures of his surroundings. “The students took the photos and noticed that some neighborhoods were hotter than others,” Shandas said. “He showed his lived experience. It went from a climate problem to a justice problem for them ”.
As the planet bakes, the situation is expected to become more dire. 30 years from now, U.S. counties with large populations of blacks will face an average of 22 more extreme heat days each year than counties with small populations of blacks, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. analysis.
For a child of color, there is a little escape. In the home, research has shown that black homes are less than half as likely as white homes to have central air conditioning. Meanwhile, at school, Black and Latino students are also suffering from the heat, a study Last year, out of 270 million test scores from American students in grades three through eight, students of color were found to be far more likely than white students to experience a drop in academic performance on days when temperatures rose above 80 ° F. More recent research has found that poor air quality, compounded by heat, can even affect children’s self-confidence and drive to succeed.
Historically racist planning policies and disparities in land values have meant that the homes of many people of color in the US are concentrated near landfills, roads, and polluting heavy industry. Blacks are 75% more like living next to oil and gas facilities that emit a lot of pollution, including gases that warm the planet.
The toxic stew that threatens young developing bodies is formidable, from formaldehyde, which has been linked to cancer, to benzene, linked to brain damage, and soot, linked to higher blood pressure. While black children make up 16% of all U.S. public school students, more than a quarter of them attend schools hardest hit by air pollution, according to a 2018 study.
High levels of air pollution, such as ozone brought on by increased heat, are fueling allergies and asthma in young children of color, research shows. According for the Environmental Protection Agency, “increases in asthma rates among poor minorities have been even greater than the averages.” Black children are now twice as likely to be hospitalized and four times more likely to die from asthma than white children.
The challenge for Biden, and future administrations, to address this threat will only grow as the climate crisis worsens. “It’s only a matter of time before we start to see more and more health problems in children,” Pacheco said. “It will be everywhere. This is urgent.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism