Every day brings a new example of how climate change is truly a “here and now” issue that impacts everyone, especially low-income families and people of color who bear a disproportionate burden. In Atlanta, climate change impacts range from warmer temperatures to flooding and other extreme weather events, which exacerbate existing inequities in the African American community.
To help address and redress the burden of pollution on our community and build the political will for action on climate change, we launched Community Rx in Atlanta last February.
Community Rx is a new environmental health justice program of Moms Clean Air Force, a national organization with more than 1 million members. We began our advocacy in Atlanta last month – birthplace of the civil rights movement – by teaming with faith groups and leading climate justice advocates to convene critical conversations on air pollution and inspire action from the ground up.
Let’s consider for a moment the kinds of health disparities faced by people of color due to environmental injustice. More than 71% of African-Americans live in counties that are consistently in violation of federal standards for air pollution and ground-level ozone. Not only does this air pollution trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses, but it also leads to more emergency room visits and higher death rates. In fact, black children suffer from asthma at almost twice the rate of white children and are four times as likely to die from it.
We can see this national travesty play out right here at home. Far too many black and other minority families in Atlanta live near heavy traffic areas, brownfields, landfills, and industrial facilities. Meanwhile, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is making matters worse by pursuing a deregulatory agenda that makes it easier for industry to pollute in areas where the air is already unhealthy to breathe. To add insult to injury, Trump’s EPA is also relaxing enforcement for violators. Penalties handed down to corporate polluters have reached a historic low.
We deserve political leaders who will protect us and not polluters. As black mothers from the South, we must hold our government accountable and safeguard the promise of clean air for the next generation.
Our country has a moral obligation to protect public health and maintain environmental quality for everyone – no matter their zip code. As Reverend Leo Woodberry told a group of CommunityRx volunteers in Atlanta last month, “The cavalry isn’t coming; the cavalry is us.” In other words, the time for action is now, and we must be the change that we seek in this world.
In 2016, climate change was barely discussed during the Presidential debates. In keeping with the Reverend’s wise words, let us lift our voices and make some noise.
Shakeila Stuckey James is the Regional Field Manager for Moms Clean Air Force.