EPA Report Outlines How Climate Change Impacts Black Communities


San Diego high school students protesting for climate change action. Photo:Vayunamu Bawa.

Race, ethnicity, and income were factors in the report findings

By Vayunamu Bawa, Contributing Writer

A report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) entitled Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the United States outlines how Black people across age ranges bear the brunt of the climate crisis and face the most risks.

“Black and African American individuals are more likely to live in areas with the highest increases in childhood asthma diagnoses and the highest increases in mortality rates due to climate-driven changes,” says the report released this month. Heatwaves, wildfires, water and air pollution are just some of the things Black communities will continue to grapple with as climate conditions worsen.

High school sophomore Kyle Tianshi working in his lab. Photo courtesy of Kyle Tianshi.

Local San Diego high school student, Kyle Tianishi, won the Innovator Award in the 2021 International Young Eco-Hero competition for his project addressing the effects of climate change.

He was one of 25 young environmental activists from across the globe who were honored by Action For Nature (AFN), an international nonprofit supporting and honoring Young Environmental Activists aged 8 to 16. Kyle created NEREID, a device that detects microscopic particles in water, after researching why his parents never let him drink from the tap.

Young people of color are growing into environmental activists because it is clear to them how much their future depends on it. On September 24, students around the world are holding a Global Climate Strike for the climate crisis and one participating group is CA Youth vs Big Oil. This movement organizes strikes and meetings across California and is specifically calling on Governor Newsom to act and put communities first.

“Young people are quite literally seeing our futures go up in smoke,” reads their petition addressed to Newsom that encourages a halt to new state permits for oil and gas drilling.

Race, ethnicity, and income were some of the factors the recent EPA report used while focusing on coastal locations that are vulnerable to temperature increases. From air to water quality, its data shows how climate change disproportionately affects people of color. Kyle had similar thoughts on the connection between the climate crisis and health.

“Climate change disproportionately affects those who contribute to it the least. Developing countries, areas with weaker infrastructure, and people of color suffer the most from the effects of climate change, yet their actions are far less harmful to the environment than fossil fuel emissions and deforestation. The only way to stop this is to end climate change now,” Kyle said in a recent interview with San Diego Voice & Viewpoint.

In April, Mayor Todd Gloria announced an “Empowerment Policy Plan for San Diego’s Black Community” plan. The plan’s goals for the city are to address the most pressing issues of economic mobility, police reform, educational barriers, differing health outcomes during the pandemic, and the effects of climate change. The plan was issued following the release of the City of San Diego Climate Equity Index Report which was developed last year to measure residents’ level of access to opportunity and the degree of potential impact from climate change in all census tracts. The report was produced “in collaboration with community-based organizations representing Communities of Concern”, according to the City of San Diego’s website.

Some of the factors considered for the Index, which was published in 2021 after a 2020 revision, were overcrowdedness, proximity to recreation areas, proximity to waste sites, bikeability, energy cost burden, and tree coverage. Barrio Logan, Lincoln Park, Nestor, Logan Heights, Palm City, Mountain View, Stockton, Grant Hill, Southcrest, Teralta East, Shelltown, and the Tijuana River Valley ranked the lowest, according to the report.

In response, the Climate Equity Fund was established with the San Diego City Council approving nearly $5 million a year to be spent only on projects in these ‘Communities of Concern.’ The Mayor’s “Back to Work SD” budget then invested $7 million into this fund in June.

San Diego’s Black community, especially the youth, should be engaged in holding the city accountable on initiatives like the Climate Equity Fund. Everyone has to work together through political and non-political actions to ensure that the needs of the community are prioritized because present and future health outcomes seriously depend on it.

The San Diego Voice & Viewpoint Newspaper coverage of local news in San Diego County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Enthnic Media Services to support minority-owned-and-operated community newspapers across California.