“[A]ll things share the same breath— the beast, the tree, the man …the air shares its spirit with all the life it supports.”
Google “Chief Seattle” and you will likely find that quote. We now know it is a work of fiction after several misinterpretations and fabrications of Dr. Henry Smith’s original translation. We also know now that all people, particularly Black Americans, do not all breathe the same air. Instead, Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities are subjected to the toxic effects of climate change at increasingly disproportionate rates. Controlling for income, studies find racial identity is the most significant indicator of exposure to general pollutants and suspended particulates. This harsh reality is highlighted by new evidence, finding that many urban heat islands (UHIs) coincide directly with redlined neighborhoods, which were designated as “hazardous” to justify denying home loans and other services to the people living there because of their race.4 Some commentators believe this evidence could be used by environmental justice advocates to rectify the deleterious effects of racism in court through the Federal Housing Act (FHA). However, advocates have rarely used the FHA successfully to remedy environmental harms related to housing policy because it is difficult to prove discriminatory treatment or disparate impact. Therefore, while the FHA is not some silver bullet to bring about environmental reparations for past harms, data such as that from the Hoffman study showing how Black Americans and other underrepresented minorities are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards can be used to advocate for more equitable conditions moving forward.
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