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Cancer Alley, Climate and Communities at Risk

Written By: Matt James and Traci Siegel

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DATE POSTED

May 8, 2020


Cancer Alley, Climate and Communities at Risk

The Climate, Health & Equity Brief is GMMB’s take on the week’s news on the current impacts of climate change. If you haven’t subscribed yet, you can do so by clicking here.

Hot Topic: Communities at risk. There is no shortage of news about the disproportionate toll COVID-19 is taking on low-income communities and people of color in the United States. The prevalence of underlying health conditions, proximity to pollution sources, the proportion of jobs that don’t allow for social distancing, and limited access to health care all play a role in increasing this vulnerability—not only to COVID-19, but also to the health impacts of climate change.

Data continue to show that air pollution not only intensifies global heating, it also makes respiratory issues like COVID-19 more deadly. In just one striking example, Louisiana’s St. James Parish—a predominantly African American district that is home to more than 150 chemical refineries—has suffered a COVID-19 death rate five times higher than the U.S. at large. Despite clear evidence linking pollutants to illness from similar hotspots across the country, President Trump’s EPA is allowing coal, oil, gas, and power producers to ignore pollution monitoring and reporting obligations, as long as they use economic impacts of COVID-19 as an excuse.

As Michael Bloomberg and Gina McCarthy noted in their powerful op-ed this week, it doesn’t have to be this way. We must expect more from our leaders. Recovery will require the recognition that a healthy economy cannot exist without healthy people—and that includes the most vulnerable among us.

Matt & Traci, GMMB

Equity
In Louisiana’s St. James Parish, a predominantly African American district in so-called “cancer alley” that is home to more than 150 chemical refineries, the COVID-19 death rate is five times higher than the overall U.S. rate. (Grist)The Trump administration continues to roll back environmental regulations even as new data show that these rollbacks worsen air quality and increase vulnerability to COVID-19, particularly among vulnerable populations. (Bloomberg)A Political Climate podcast explores the underlying social, economic and political disparities that make African Americans particularly vulnerable to both the climate crisis and COVID-19. (Greentech Media)A new study found that the average farmworker experiences 21 days with unsafe heat annually, and the number of excessive heat days are increasing in crop-producing regions. (Grist)

Health
With record-high ocean temperatures, this year’s Atlantic hurricane season is anticipated to be among the worst ever, further straining the already overwhelmed disaster response system. (Grist)

A new study revealed that one-third of the planet—an estimated 3.5 billion people—will live in extreme heat by 2070 if greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase in the coming decades. (The New York Times)

Politics & Economy
Having outperformed coal-powered electricity since March 25, renewable energy is projected to be the only electricity source with growing demand this year. (The Hill, Grist)

A recent investigation revealed that oil and gas companies—the makers of plastics—have spent millions of dollars promoting recycling programs they knew would never be economically viable to keep plastic bans at bay. (NPR)

According to a new report, teleworking is expected to continue past the coronavirus pandemic, with many companies weighing the potential to reduce corporate emissions and lower office costs over the long term. (Axios)

Action
Mayors from cities in Africa, Europe and the U.S. are coordinating efforts to ensure a low-carbon, sustainable economic recovery from coronavirus that expands urban pedestrian space, boosts energy efficiency in buildings and increases investments in renewable power. (The Guardian)

A federal judge in Montana has canceled 287 oil and gas leases sold by the Bureau of Land Management because government officials did not adequately study the environmental and water supply risks. (Associated Press)

The Washington Post won the Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for 2°C Beyond the Limit, its groundbreaking series that showed with scientific clarity the dire effects of extreme temperatures on the planet. (Pulitzer.org)

Kicker
Some say hindsight is 2020…perhaps now we know why?  Imagine a better future in this inspiring four-minute video. Stick with it—we promise it’s worth it!

“We can remember from the tragic inequities being underscored by this pandemic that equity and justice must be the foundation of global climate action.”

– Aparna Bole, University Hospitals of Cleveland