Path to Zero
Path to Zero
2.06 - Racial Disparities and Climate Change

Environmental justice takes center stage once again on Path to Zero as Tucker Perkins welcomes a special guest who has worked for more than a decade to address the many practices that are harming communities of color nationwide. Jacqueline Patterson is the Senior Director of Environmental and Climate Justice Program at the NAACP.

Environmental injustice, including the proliferation of climate change, has had a disproportionate impact on communities of color and low-income communities. The NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program was created to support community leadership in addressing this human and civil rights issue. This program works at addressing the many practices that are harming communities nationwide, as well as the policies needed to advance a more sustainable society.

Patterson talks to Tucker about experiencing environmental injustice firsthand many times. She was raised near coal power plants on the South Side of Chicago and observed higher rates of asthma among children in her neighborhood. As a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica, Patterson worked to help a community whose water supply was contaminated by a neighboring refinery.

Unequal Impact

Patterson covers the entire climate change continuum, from the polluting actions that drive climate change to the results of climate change where we see disproportionate impacts on communities of color.

Whether it’s the transportation, energy or agriculture sectors, Patterson says communities of color tend to be on the front lines of experiencing pollution from those industries. Coal-fired power plants, refineries, incinerators, landfills, and near roadway air pollution all tend to be located near these communities and they pay the price with health challenges.

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, black children are twice as likely to have asthma as white children. And black children are 10 times more likely than white kids to die of complications from asthma.

Patterson also points out how communities of color are disproportionately impacted by the weather extremes associated with climate change. These low-income communities are less likely to have homeowners and flood insurance. She says in places like New Orleans where they made levee improvements after Hurricane Katrina, the infrastructure improvements were based on economic impact only. That means communities with the lowest property values, which tend to be communities of color, were the ones that were least protected by levee fortifications.

Taking Action

Over the years, the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program has accomplished many endeavors aimed at ending environmental and climate injustices.

The organization recently released a report on the deceptive tactics used by fossil fuel conglomerates and their supporters at the expense of communities most affected by pollution.

New solar energy system installed at Jenesse Center, the oldest domestic violence intervention and prevention program in South Los Angeles.

The Solar Equity Initiative was launched in 2018 to connect low-income communities and communities of color with solar technology and skills training across the country. The effort is brining job training to people of color and low-income communities throughout the country, while ensuring that those same populations see more solar installed on their residences and community centers.

The NAACP will soon launch its Seeds of Resilience initiative where they will be planting more than 200 food gardens in communities across the country.