It’s a well known fact that communities who have had the least to do with perpetuating ecological devastation and the climate crisis are the most impacted by it. Environmental degradation and climate inequities disproportionately plague communities of color and low-income communities. As Black History Month draws to a close, we’re taking a look at how climate change and fossil fuel infrastructure impacts Black communities around the U.S and the inspiring resistance to years of governmental neglect.
Union Hill, Virginia: A Pipeline Fight In a Historically Black Community
The state of Virginia’s largest utility, Dominion Energy, proposed a massive, multistate natural gas pipeline and gas-fired compressor station in Union Hill a historically black community founded by freed enslaved people. As the energy company sought to secure the permits for the projects, the community recognized the numerous risks the two projects would pose to their health and organized to fight back. They partnered with environmental organizations to highlight the chronic health problems that Black residents face from fossil fuel projects. The project’s final proposal disproportionately targets Black residents. To date, this pipeline project has faced numerous legal setbacks and continues to be delayed.
BREAKING: Federal court denies Dominion’s request in another setback for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. https://t.co/97pIL2HRzK
— Appalachian Voices (@AppVoices) February 26, 2019
— SELC (Environmental Law) (@selc_org) February 26, 2019
Little Haiti: Climate Gentrification
The Miami neighborhood of Little Haiti is combatting two major threats simultaneously: climate change and gentrification. A product of segregation and discriminatory zoning laws, Little Haiti is 75% black with a median income of $21,000. The predominantly Black neighborhood sits at a higher elevation than other low-lying, popular Miami neighborhoods making it naturally better equipped to withstand rising sea levels. As South Florida braces for sea level rise, wealthy Miami residents are buying up property in Little Haiti in hopes of sticking around in the face of climate change displacing Black residents in the process.
South Carolina: The Gullah People and Hurricanes
A few miles off the South Carolina coast lies the Sea Islands, home to the Gullah community. Gullah communities are descendents of enslaved people who worked on rice plantations before slavery was abolished. They live along the coasts of the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida. In the face of the increasing frequency of hurricanes supercharged by climate change, the Gullah people are torn between leaving their island lives behind in favor of relocating to the mainland.
“Our history is getting erased.” My latest from a time capsule of Gullah Geechee history and heritage on Sand Island, where hurricanes are the least of their concern. https://t.co/fPmc3vo63R pic.twitter.com/S4YqKfTgR0
— Khushbu Shah (@KhushbuOShea) September 23, 2018
‘Our history is getting erased’: the biggest threat to Sandy Island’s Gullah is not hurricanes
A South Carolina community that has retained its African-influenced language weathered last week’s storm but faces other challenges to its future. https://t.co/E19545AiCd
— Sincecombahee (@Sincecombahee) October 7, 2018
St. James Parish and Oil Refineries in the Gulf (Cancer Alley)
St. James Parish in Louisiana has been the target of numerous methanol and petrochemical plants, oil storage facilities and pipelines. This targeting includes the terminus of the Bayou Bridge pipeline, which would carry crude oil from the Dakota Access Pipeline. Majority Black communities in St. James Parish like Freetown, which was founded by formerly enlaved and free people of color, are subjected to disproportionate amounts of pollution from fossil fuel related industries leading to high rates of cancer asthma and other ailments. The residents of St. James have largely been excluded from any economic “benefits” from the surrounding industries. In addition, the high levels of pollution have left them with low home values. These factors combined make it economically difficult for residents to leave in pursuit of healthier lives. However, community activists like Pastor Harry Joseph and members of the Mount Triumph Baptist Church continue to fight for the health of their community by resisting the fossil fuel industry and the Bayou Bridge Pipeline.
St. James Parish residents fought back against a planned chemical plant from Wanhua, a project announced by @LouisianaGov in November. “Will black residents again be asked to bear the environmental costs of industry?” via @StateStPosts #lalege #lagov https://t.co/wFlUsT65PM
— Sam Karlin (@samkarlin) February 27, 2019
South Bronx: Urban Environmental Injustice
Black communities in the South Bronx have been defending their community from environmental injustices for decades. The South Bronx has long been targeted as the site of numerous polluting industries, which have subjected the community to some of the highest rates of asthma related deaths and hospitalizations in the country. In addition, South Bronx Waterfront communities, like Point Morris are susceptible to flooding from climate disasters as seen during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. The history of community activism has led to some victories for the community. Black and Brown led grassroots organizations successfully led resistance efforts to close down a medical waste incinerator that consistently violated state pollution standards in 1999 and a fertilizer and waste treatment plant in 2010. Today, organizations like Sustainable South Bronx founded by community activist, Majora Carter, continue to fight for environmental and economic justice through job training and community restoration programs.
— NYC-EJA (@NYCEJAlliance) October 27, 2016