Dr. Deckard

WRI 101

April 4, 2018

Race and Environmental Vulnerability in the United States

Racial segregation in housing in the United States is often considered to have ended with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which “made discrimination in the sale or renting of housing units illegal in the United States.”[1]   However, levels of racial housing segregation have remained stable since 1940.  The persistence of residential segregation, with respect to the Civil Rights Act, is attributed to years of ingrained institutional racism, policies such as red lining, and discrimination in the awarding of loans and mortgages.[2]  This housing segregation and income inequality has resulted in low-income African Americans living in areas with increased environmental risk, such as pollution, heat waves, and natural disasters, in contrast to other racial groups within the US.[3]  With the onset of climate change, health risks to poor African American neighborhoods are exacerbated.  Institutional racism created a system in which not only are African Americans more likely to suffer the effects of climate change and pollution but are also denied the infrastructure and public resources to cope with them, a situation exemplified by the impact and effects of Hurricane Katrina.

This systemic inequality of racial housing segregation has deep historical roots.  Though slavery ended in the mid 19th century, Southern Jim Crow laws and red-lining policies persisted for the next century.  Red lining created a system in which “most mortgages and home loans went to middle class White families”[4] through the denial of credit to people from minority neighborhoods.[5]  Though red lining was technically made illegal by the Fair Housing Act of 1968, it continued in different forms throughout the latter half of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st, largely as a result of enforcement failures.[6]  Consequently, affluent areas became mainly white, and remain so in the 21st century.  Furthermore, persistent income inequality and racial bias in the distribution of housing grants and mortgage loans makes it extremely difficult for African Americans to enter these areas today.  For example, in the early 2000s “Blacks were denied loans 42.7% of the time, whereas Whites were denied 29.6% of the time.”[7]  Thus, poor African Americans are often confined to cheaper, less desirable areas of the country.[8]

In addition to being financially confined to less desirable urban areas, many low income African Americans also live in “the Gulf Coast and South Atlantic regions of the USA,” areas that experience natural disasters at approximately four times the rate than the rest of the country.[9]  This phenomenon was exemplified by the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Southern city of New Orleans in 2005.  When Hurricane Katrina hit, poor black neighborhoods were disproportionately located on low lying ground with a high flood risk.[10]  Conversely, middle class and wealthy whites were grouped in suburbs “literally on higher ground.”[11]

It is important to note that Hurricane Katrina, like many other dramatic weather events, cannot be directly linked to climate change.  Indeed, the impact of Katrina was exacerbated by non-climate change phenomena such as the erosion of coastal marshland and the inadequacy of floodwalls and levees.  However, Hurricane Katrina is part of a wider, troubling pattern of extreme weather that has begun to plague the world.[12]  At the moment, “there is a broad consensus among climate scientists that further emissions of greenhouse gases will cause temperatures to increase from 1.5 º C to 5.8 º C” in the next 100 years.[13]  Such an overall temperature increase is linked to a corresponding increase in occurrence and intensity of extreme weather.[14] Additionally, New Orleans represents a pattern of racial and socioeconomic inequality, particularly pertaining to low income African Americans, that is replicated in many cities throughout the United States.[15]  For that reason, it is appropriate to use Katrina as a model for future events.[16]

However, climate change has not only increased the risk of a large scale natural disaster, such as Hurricane Katrina.  The overall global temperature rise associated with climate change has also resulted in an exacerbation of health risks in vulnerable populations.[17] For example, “71% of African Americans live in counties in violation of federal air pollution standards,” in comparison to 58% of White Americans.  As a result, asthma is more than three times as likely to occur in African American populations, and three times as likely to lead to severe medical complications of death.[18]

Vulnerability to climate change consists of both the risk posed to a group and the capacity of that group to cope with said risks.[19]  In addition to being in locations that are at a greater risk from disasters, African Americans also have “less resilience” to deal with environmental risks.[20]  For instance, they do not have the capability to cope with the increased risk of asthma because of systemic denial of healthcare access and high-quality healthcare.  Low-income African Americans often suffer from “lack of insurance” and “lack of transportation,” resulting in an inability to access medical care consistently, if at all.[21]  When treatment is attained, black patients are found to “get less attention from nurses” and are given “less tests” than white patients.[22]  In general, treatment for the high prevalence of asthma in African American populations resulting from increased air pollution is of a much poorer quality in comparison to treatment available to white Americans.  For example, asthmatic adults in Harlem use treatment steroids to control asthma at a much lower rate than the rest of the country, indicating that “adults in poor communities… are not receiving needed services.”[23]

Furthermore, climate change is proven to “increase the density and duration of heat waves.”[24]  Urban areas experience significantly more intense heat waves than other areas,[25] and within urban populations, minority subgroups are more likely to be severely affected.[26]  Heat waves exacerbate pre-existing vulnerabilities in African American communities in the same manner as air pollution.  For example, low-income African Americans are more “socially vulnerable” and less likely to be able to afford air conditioning.[27]  In general, access to air conditioning is dependent upon numerous socioeconomic factors, such as “social contacts” and “affordability of electricity.”[28]  Twice as many White households as African American households are estimated to have central air conditioning.[29]   Consequently, “African Americans suffer heat-related death at 150% to 200% the rate of non-Hispanic Whites.”[30]

Institutional racism and resulting lack of access does not only negatively affect the health of individual people.  In the case of Hurricane Katrina, racial bias prevented whole neighborhoods from recovering from destruction.   Relief efforts during and after Katrina indicated entrenched racial bias.  For instance, “The Small Business Administration redlined black neighborhoods in New Orleans so that most of the applications from small businesses in the hardest-hit areas were denied,” continuing a long history of redlining policies that characterize black residential areas throughout the United States.[31]

Additionally, the disaster revealed intense racism and stereotyping on a personal level.  FoxNews host Bill O’Reilly insinuated that the Hurricane Katrina evacuation crisis was caused because the poor black people of New Orleans were so dependent upon drugs that they refused to abandon their supply. Additionally, Politician Rick Santorum proposed criminal penalties for people that failed to evacuate after government disaster warnings.  He ignored the fact that the majority of citizens who did not evacuate were unable to do so,[32] as in New Orleans, the majority of poor African Americans relied on public transportation to get around the city.[33]

Reliance of public transportation also affected the repopulation of New Orleans after Katrina.  Less African Americans than whites were able to return to their homes, partly because of access to public transport.  In addition, residents of the Lower Ninth Ward and other areas populated by low income African Americans simply did not have the financial capability to rebuild their homes and neighborhoods in the same manner as “white, middle-upper class” people did.  By 2008 (3 years after Katrina), the Lower Ninth Ward did not have “electricity, drinkable water and FEMA trailers,” while a “whiter and wealthier” neighborhood nearby had all three.[34]  Overall, the Bush administration’s response to the crisis in New Orleans resulted in the sense that the federal government “felt no responsibility for the lives of poor blacks and others marginalized by poverty and relegated to the outskirts of society.”[35]  Combined with the government’s reluctance to deal with climate change (or, in some cases, acknowledge it), this lack of responsibility leaves low-income African Americans extremely vulnerable.

Present day residential racial segregation resulted in low-income African Americans, particularly in urban areas, being more likely than white Americans to suffer from pollution and climate change, including large scale disasters and heat waves.  Not only are low-income African Americans more vulnerable to these risks as a result of physical location, but institutional racism regarding healthcare access, transportation, and access to household amenities such as air conditioning has made it extremely difficult for them to cope with these risks.  Hurricane Katrina, while unable to be directly linked to climate change, foreshadowed the type of disaster that is becoming more prevalent and revealed the vulnerability of low-income African Americans to environmental risks.  Furthermore, governmental responses after Katrina evidenced the extent to which race determines the ability of a population to recover from an environmental disaster.[36]  Centuries of racist policy that continues into the 21st century resulted in African Americans disproportionately being negatively affected by climate change as it exacerbates pre-existing inequalities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Aaronson, Daniel and Hartley, Daniel A. and Mazumder, Bhashkar, The Effects of the 1930s HOLC ‘Redlining’ Maps (2017-09-17). FRB of Chicago Working Paper No. WP-2017-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3038733

 

Byrnes, W., “Climate Justice, Hurricane Katrina, and African American Environmentalism,” Journal of African American Studies 18, no. 3 (Sep. 2014): 305-314.

Feagin, Joe and Zinobia Bennefield, “Systemic Racism and U.S. Health Care.”  Social Science and Medicine 103 (Feb. 2014): 7-14.

Giroux, Henry A. “Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability.” College Literature 33, no. 3 (Summer 2006): 171-96. doi:10.1353/lit.2006.0037.

Gwynn, R. Charon, and George D. Thurston. “The Burden of Air Pollution: Impacts among Racial Minorities.” Environmental Health Perspectives 109 (2001): 501-06. doi:10.2307/3454660.

Henkel, Kristin E., John F. Dovidio, and Samuel L. Gaertner. “Institutional Discrimination, Individual Racism, and Hurricane Katrina.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy 6, no. 1 (December 2006): 99-124. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2006.00106.x.

Lloyd, James M. “Fighting Redlining and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.” Journal of Urban History 42, no. 6 (2016): 1091-109. doi:10.1177/0096144214566975.

 

Mendelsohn, Robert, Ariel Dinar, and Larry Williams. “The Distributional Impact of Climate Change on Rich and Poor Countries.” Environment and Development Economics 11, no. 02 (2006): 159-78. doi:10.1017/s1355770x05002755.

Mitchell, Bruce Coffyn, and Jayajit Chakraborty. “Urban Heat and Climate Justice: A Landscape of Thermal Inequity in Pinellas County, Florida.” Geographical Review104, no. 4 (2014): 459-80. doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2014.12039.x.

 

Northridge, Mary E., Iian H. Meyer, and Linda Dunn. “Overlooked and Underrepresented in Harlem: A Population-Based Survey of Adults with Asthma.” Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements 110 (Apr. 2002): 217.

Oleson, K. W., G. B. Anderson, B. Jones, S. A. Mcginnis, and B. Sanderson. “Avoided Climate Impacts of Urban and Rural Heat and Cold Waves over the U.S. Using Large Climate Model Ensembles for RCP8.5 and RCP4.5.” Climatic Change 146, no. 3-4 (2015): 377-92. doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1504-1.

 

O’Neill, M. S. “Disparities by Race in Heat-Related Mortality in Four US Cities: The Role of Air Conditioning Prevalence.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine82, no. 2 (2005): 191-97. doi:10.1093/jurban/jti043.

 

Patz, Jonathan A., Holly K. Gibbs, Jonathan A. Foley, Jamesine V. Rogers, and Kirk R. Smith. “Climate Change and Global Health: Quantifying a Growing Ethical Crisis.” EcoHealth 4, no. 4 (November 30, 2007): 397-405. doi:10.1007/s10393-007-0141-1.

 

Popescu, Ioana, Erin Duffy, Joshua Mendelsohn, and José J. Escarce. “Racial Residential Segregation, Socioeconomic Disparities, and the White-Black Survival Gap.” Plos One 13, no. 2 (February 23, 2018): 1-15. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193222.

Rhee, Mary K., et al. “Limited Health Care Access Impairs Glycemic Control in Low Income Urban African Americans With Type 2 Diabetes.” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 16, no. 4 (Nov 2005): 734-746. http://muse.jhu.edu/article/190552.

 

Shepherd, Marshall, and Binita, KC. “Climate Change and African Americans in the USA.” Geography Compass 9, no. 11 (November 1, 2015): 579-91. doi:10.1111/gec3.12244.

Stivers, Camilla. ““So Poor and So Black”: Hurricane Katrina, Public Administration, and the Issue of Race.” Public Administration Review 67, no. s1 (December 2007): 48-56. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2007.00812.x.

Williams, D. R. and Collins, C. “Racial Residential Segregation: A Fundamental Cause of Racial Disparities in Health.” Public Health Reports 116, no. 5 (September/October 2001): 404-16. doi:10.1093/phr/116.5.404.

Zhang, Mengyao, and Debarchana Ghosh. “Spatial Supermarket Redlining and Neighborhood Vulnerability: A Case Study of Hartford, Connecticut.” Transactions in GIS20, no. 1 (2015): 79-100. doi:10.1111/tgis.12142.

 

 

 

[1]  D. R. Williams and C. Collins. “Racial Residential Segregation: A Fundamental Cause of Racial Disparities in Health.” Public Health Reports 116, no. 5 (September/October 2001): 405. doi:10.1093/phr/116.5.404.

[2] Williams and Collins, “Racial Residential Segregation: A Fundamental, 405.

[3] Marshall Shepherd and KC Binita. “Climate Change and African Americans in the USA.” Geography Compass 9, no. 11 (November 1, 2015): 579-91. doi:10.1111/gec3.12244.

[4]  Kristin E. Henkel, John F. Dovidio, and Samuel L. Gaertner. “Institutional Discrimination, Individual Racism, and Hurricane Katrina.” Analyses of Social Issues and Public Policy6, no. 1 (December 2006): 99-124. doi:10.1111/j.1530-2415.2006.00106.x.

[5] Aaronson, Daniel and Hartley, Daniel A. and Mazumder, Bhashkar, The Effects of the 1930s HOLC ‘Redlining’ Maps (2017-09-17). FRB of Chicago Working Paper No. WP-2017-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3038733.

[6] James M. Lloyd, “Fighting Redlining and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.,” Journal of Urban History 42, no. 6 (2016): 1093-1094, doi:10.1177/0096144214566975.

[7] Henkel, “Institutional Discrimination,” 107.

[8] Henkel, “Institutional Discrimination,” 108.

[9] Shepherd and Binita, “Climate Change and African Americans,” 582.

[10]  Henkel, “Institutional Discrimination,” 108.

[11]  Camilla Stivers. ““So Poor and So Black”: Hurricane Katrina, Public Administration, and the Issue of Race.” Public Administration Review 67, no. s1 (December 2007): 50. doi:10.1111/j.1540-6210.2007.00812.x.

[12] Byrnes, Climate Justice, 308-309.

[13] Robert Mendelsohn, Ariel Dinar, and Larry Williams. “The Distributional Impact of Climate Change on Rich and Poor Countries.” Environment and Development Economics 11, no. 02 (2006): 159. doi:10.1017/s1355770x05002755.

[14] Shepherd and Binita, “Climate Change and African Americans,” 579-580.

[15] Byrnes, Climate Justice, 308-309.

[16] Byrnes, Climate Justice, 308-309.

[17] Shepherd and Binita, “Climate Change and African Americans,” 581.

 

[18] Shepherd and Binita, “Climate Change and African Americans,”

[19] Shepherd and Binita, “Climate Change and African Americans,” 581.

[20] Shepherd and Binita, “Climate Change and African Americans,” 586.

[21] Mary K. Rhee, et al. “Limited Health Care Access Impairs Glycemic Control in Low Income Urban African Americans With Type 2 Diabetes.” Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved 16, no. 4 (Nov 2005): 734-746. http://muse.jhu.edu/article/190552.

 

[22] Joe Feagin and Zinobia Bennefield, “Systemic Racism and U.S. Health Care.”  Social Science and Medicine 103 (Feb. 2014): 7-14.

[23] Mary E. Northridge, Iian H. Meyer, and Linda Dunn. “Overlooked and Underrepresented in Harlem: A Population-Based Survey of Adults with Asthma.” Environmental Health Perspectives Supplements 110 (Apr. 2002): 217.

[24] Bruce Coffyn Mitchell and Jayajit Chakraborty, “Urban Heat and Climate Justice: A Landscape of Thermal Inequity in Pinellas County, Florida,” Geographical Review 104, no. 4 (2014): , doi:10.1111/j.1931-0846.2014.12039.x.

[25] K. W. Oleson et al., “Avoided Climate Impacts of Urban and Rural Heat and Cold Waves over the U.S. Using Large Climate Model Ensembles for RCP8.5 and RCP4.5,” Climatic Change 146, no. 3-4 (2015): 390, doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1504-1.

[26] Mitchell and Chakraborty, “Urban Heat.”

[27] Mitchell and Chakraborty, “Urban Heat.”

[28] M.S. O’Neill. “Disparities by Race in Heat-Related Mortality in Four US Cities: The Role of Air Conditioning Prevalence.” Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine82, no. 2 (2005): 194. doi:10.1093/jurban/jti043

[29] O’Neill, “Disparities,” 191.

[30] Shepherd and Binita, “Climate Change and African Americans,” 583.

[31]  Stivers, “So Poor,” 52-53.

[32]  Giroux, Henry A. “Reading Hurricane Katrina: Race, Class, and the Biopolitics of Disposability.” College Literature33, no. 3 (Summer 2006): 171-96. doi:10.1353/lit.2006.0037.

[33] W. Byrnes, “Climate Justice, Hurricane Katrina, an African American Environmentalism,” Journal of African American Studies, vol 18, no. 3, Sep. 2014, pp. 305-314.

[34] Byrnes, “Climate Justice,” 307-308.

[35] Giroux, “Reading,” 175.

[36] Byrnes, “Climate Justice,” 307-308.

April 4, 2018

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