Environmental racism in America
America is reckoning with the fact that communities of color across the country have been treated far differently, and far worse, for far too long. Racism takes on many different shapes and forms in our country, and the situation isn’t any different in Pennsylvania.
For decades, our leaders have neglected to address rising greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the basic chemistry of our atmosphere in a way that is creating extreme weather and shifting our climate. These emissions come from transportation and industrial sources, but also power generation sources like the Montour coal-fired power plant.
These atmospheric changes do not impact our society equally, and many marginalized communities of color already subject to decades-long impacts from air and water pollution are again among the most vulnerable to flooding, extreme heat and rising sea levels.
There is ample evidence to substantiate this claim: in a study published on June 18 in The Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found there is a significant association between heat, ozone, or fine particulate matter and adverse pregnancy outcomes. The study also found that those adverse pregnancy outcomes disproportionately affect black mothers and their babies over other demographics, according to The New York Times.
Another study also highlighted in The New York Times found that people of color are almost twice as likely to live near dangerous industrial facilities like the Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery, which exploded last year, sending 5,200 pounds of deadly hydrofluoric acid across a neighborhood that has a minority population hovering around 60 percent.
Those communities aren’t just the most vulnerable when it comes to the most severe effects of climate change, but they are also some of the least equipped when it comes to coping or recovering from flooding and other extreme weather events, according to Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection.
It is not an accident that so many communities of color are disproportionately impacted by climate change and pollution. Therefore, better environmental protections are key to addressing racial justice and equity, and central to achieving these reforms is strengthening our democracy by maximizing voter participation.
That’s exactly why the nonpartisan Democracy for All — PennFuture program was launched earlier this year, with the goal of advocating for democracy reform and registering and turning people out to vote.
To build a more just and equitable Pennsylvania that is responsive to all people and their will to protect the planet, Democracy For All is working to connect single women, people of color, and young people under the age of 35 to our country’s civic process because our democracy fails when any voices are excluded.
The situation is especially crucial in Pennsylvania, where our state lawmakers continue to make decisions that harm our climate and hence, our most vulnerable communities.
For example, just a few months ago, the Legislature passed a bill with bipartisan support that will provide nearly $700 million in taxpayer subsidies to incentivize more fracking and more petrochemical plants across Pennsylvania. It won’t be surprising if these polluting facilities are built in close proximity to our most vulnerable communities.
Too often, polluting facilities get moved from one person’s backyard to another’s. To win this fight, we must keep the chemicals and pollutants that cause asthma, cancer and climate change out of Pennsylvania entirely.
PennFuture is dedicated to fighting for clean air, clean water and a healthy environment, and our Democracy for All program is equally dedicated to ensuring that disenfranchised communities in Pennsylvania make their voices heard by voting in all elections.
There’s no better way to change the present and forge a better future than by voting. Here’s hoping that everyone who is eligible will register to vote, and there’s no better time to register than right now.
In addition, it is imperative that anyone who is registered makes a commitment to voting, both in the November election and afterward. Tomorrow, Oct. 19, is your last day to register to vote for November’s election.
Our future depends on it.
Emily Gale is the director of Civic Engagement for PennFuture, a statewide environmental advocacy organization. She lives in Williamsport.