We Can’t Address Climate Change Until we Address Racism.


“I need you to become actively anti-racist. I need you to understand that our racial inequality crisis is intertwined with our climate crisis. If we don’t work on both, we will succeed at neither. I need you to step up.”
— Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson
Ocean Collective
Read her op-ed "I'm a Black climate expert. Racism derails our efforts to save the planet."

Watching a congressional hearing may not seem like the sexiest way to spend an evening, but these are extraordinary times.
Jacqueline Patterson and Mustafa Santiago Ali during testimony
Jacqueline Patterson from the NAACP Environment and Climate Justice Program highlighted how systemic inequities make communities more vulnerable, including poverty, housing insecurity, racial profiling, access to healthcare, under-resourced education, and privatized criminal justice—all social determinants of health. Watch her opening statement.

“Racism is a through-line that imperils us at every turn,” she said during powerful testimony before a Congressional hearing on COVID-19 and environmental justice communities.

She joined Mustafa Santiago Ali from the National Wildlife Federation, who spoke about how systemic racism from housing policies is part of the reason frontline communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution. Watch his opening statement and conversation about sacrifice zones and health.

They offered policy and investment solutions ( watch now ):

Restore and strengthen EPA regulations that have been rolled back, and advance clean air ordinances at the local level
Transition bus and truck fleets to electric
Address food deserts and food insecurity
Focus on pre-emergency mitigation, put civil and human rights at the center of emergency management, and set a new standard that goes beyond returning homes to pre-disaster states

Learn more
Watch a brief history of segregation and redlining , and how they are still harming health in this NBC10 segment with Adrienne Hollis from the Union of Concerned Scientists and our Director, Dr. Aaron Bernstein. Watch now
B  y the numbers:
Wastewater from fracking sites and oil and gas facilities are more often built near Black communities.
Flooding disproportionately harms Black neighborhoods
71% of African Americans live in counties in violation of air pollution standards.

Learn more on our page about Environmental Justice and Health research .
Frontline communities experience hotter temperatures during heatwaves, and new research adds another layer of injustice by pointing to higher energy bills for Black households , which may put air conditioning out of reach.
House w/snowflake and fire symbols
Our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein offers tips for keeping cool in his latest column:

Drink water and limit caffeine and alcohol, which can dehydrate you.
Stay on the lowest floor of your home and cover windows during the hottest times of day.
Take a cool shower or bath.
Check on neighbors.
Avoid using your oven or range.
Open windows and use a fan to circulate air if the temperature falls below 70

See also: Our tip sheet for city, state, and local officials offers approaches to protecting health as we prepare for the hottest months. Many cities are already tackling extreme heat with innovative solutions .
Mary T. Bassett
Harvard Chan School’s Dean Michelle Williams and Jeffrey Sánchez, a former MA state representative, wrote a powerful op-ed, Racism is killing black people. It’s sickening them, too and spoke about where we go from here:
Actions for Individuals

Be clear on what the problem is: It’s systemic racism. And we have to understand how pervasive it is, and then structure solutions in proportion to the size of the problem.
Be truthful with yourself: If you are not Black or Brown, examine what you’ve done every time you’ve seen something that might have made you uncomfortable, even if you were not committing the seemingly racist act.
Vote and hold elected officers accountable.
Celebrate the symbolic victories, but don’t stop there.

Solutions for institutions

Ensure representation on boards, committees, in leadership offices, and in C-suites, and be sure they are working to really see, hear, and act on the things that need to be addressed.
Be sure representation is not just tokenism. It’s not fair to have a handful of representatives at the table and not have the full cooperation of the institution be fully committed to changing, appreciating, and addressing how tenacious and how insidious racist behavior and attitudes can be.
Change your culture. You can’t have an institution that is working against persistent and enduring strains of anti-Black and Brown behavior just by fixing your numbers.

William H. McDaniel, MD

Dr. Robert H. Shmerling is the former clinical chief of the division of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), and is a current member of the corresponding faculty in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

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