Black History Month calls for a celebration of the visionary environmental leadership of black individuals and communities, as well as an examination of the many environmental injustices faced by people of color in our country. Whether we acknowledge it or not, the extreme weather events of last year and early 2015 do not visit economic, psychological and health-related damage upon all Americans equally. We have seen for decades how racism, poverty and other forms of marginalization negatively impact our experience of environmental issues such as pollution and extreme weather.
When a superstorm like Hurricane Sandy hits, it does its worst damage to families who lack access to health insurance, rent homes, are un- or under-insured, and generally already overburdened. From winter storms that bring higher heating costs and disrupted services, to summer heat waves that are felt more harshly in urban centers where, research shows, 52% of black Americans are more likely than whites to live in “urban heat islands” dense neighborhoods without access to cooling green space, and can be twice as likely to die during a heat wave.