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Racial Justice & the Built Environment: Non-White Communities Suffer from Hotter Temperatures

Attention Sages & Philanthropists!

"Money doesn't grow on trees but it is certainly concentrated underneath them across the U.S.," concluded state scientist Jeremy Hoffman on a recent study about extreme heat concentrating in predominantly BIPOC and poor areas.

The study was published in June 2021 in Earth’s Future,  the nonprofit earth science organization AGU’s journal for interdisciplinary research on the past, present and future of our planet and its inhabitants. The approach offers city planners and policymakers a way to identify disparities and to evaluate initiatives to address urban heat.

The scientists analyzed data from NASA on heat waves then corresponded those areas of extreme heat with census data. They found that 76% of the 1000 counties they examined, poorer communities were hotter due to less access to trees, more pavement, and more people. Even with the researchers blocked out socioeconomic data, counties with larger BIPOC populations had less access to tree cover, parks, and natural cooling areas. Race was still the predominant factor in rural areas, too.

Racial justice and climate policy are linked. Our built environment can exacerbate inequity or put us on a different path. This study shows why talking about racial justice in design is so important. Please check out How to Talk about Racial Justice in Sustainability, an article for Green Biz that I co-authored with sustainability expert and OGT board member Victoria Gilchrist of Intel.

This new research about access to trees and natural cooling areas underscores why we must not only talk about equity in green design and policy, but act on it.

Here are some #OneGreenThings to consider based on your Service Superpower:

  • Adventurer: Document what you see next time you're visiting an urban area. Notice access to trees or public spaces versus parking lots. Share on social media.

  • Influencer: Talk about this research with your friends and colleagues. Think about design in your community and access to green spaces through a lens of equity. Share this article.

  • Philanthropist: Notice where your public green areas are located in your town. Call your local parks department and ask how you can volunteer or support access to green spaces where you live. Organizations to consider supporting: Children & Nature Network, Public Lands Alliance , National Black Environmental Justice Network, & the Chisholm Legacy Project.

  • Sage: How can you incorporate more access to green spaces in your community? Can you place your worship or community center play a role? Mention your concern and your idea to a friend.

  • Spark: Share this article to help your friends understand systemic racism and how institutional barriers limit access to nature.

  • Wonk: Take 10 minutes googling the long-term development plan for your community. Are parks or access to green areas part of your community's plan? If not, send an email to your city planner or mayor advocating for access to trees and green areas.


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