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We're all in this together
I recently came a across this tidbit of information having to do with America’s race thing and everyday life. It’s relevant to this deadly, super-hot summer. In June and July we saw pictures of the air in places like NYC. Usually you can’t take a picture of air, because it’s invisible. But climate change had rendered central and eastern Canada a burning inferno and America got a poignant eye and lung full of climate change.
In July, NASA recorded the world’s hottest ever temperature. Then in August the ocean temperature off the coast of Miami hit a mind-numbing 100℉. And this week the historic town of Lahaina burned to the ground with many hundreds of people dead or missing.
If you think it’s been hot this summer, you’re right. It’s been hot. If you think the heat has been miserable, right again. But if you lived in the city, in the section where Black Americans were herded during the 20th century era of redlining, you’d be even hotter and more miserable. 12.8 degrees hotter and more miserable, to be exact.
In June I guided a workshop with famed author, environmentalist, climate activist and founder of both 350.organd Third Act Bill McKibben. You can read the short, full text of the workshop here. Bill came upon this information about the disparity of temperatures between the inner (Black) city and the gentrified (White) section/suburbs: “I follow the news around climate change constantly. And so not long ago I was leafing through the latest issue of Current Opinion in Nephrology and Hypertension (a journal for kidney doctors) because cases of kidney disease are going up due to higher temperatures, increased sweating, and dehydration.
Here’s what struck me: They had some interesting data about the temperatures in American cities, and they connected it to something you might be familiar with called redlining. Back in the mid-twentieth century, the federal government drew lines around minority neighborhoods, essentially limiting further investments in those areas.
These were places that just steadily deteriorated as a result of federal policy and the resulting divestiture. Each neighborhood was graded from A to D. When you visit those neighborhoods that were given a D grade a century ago, you’ll notice a significant difference in temperature. Due to the lack of investment, there are fewer parks and trees, which has led to much higher temperatures in those areas. And when I say “way higher,” I mean, way higher.
In comparison (the all-White) neighborhoods that received an A grade in the 1900’s now have an average temperature that is 8°F lower than the city’s overall mean temperature. On the other hand, the (partially or wholly Black) neighborhoods that received a (red-lined) D grade have an average temperature that is 4.8°F hotter. So, we’re looking at a 12°F temperature difference in these neighborhoods because of the racist policies enacted by the federal government a century ago.”
Banks, governments, and investors divested - i.e. did not invest - in Black neighborhoods. Few sidewalks, no parks, no pools and most relevant to the temperature…no trees. Tress not only look pretty and provide shade when you’re hanging out beneath them, but they cool the area by keeping the streets and buildings from absorbing and then releasing as much heat as they would otherwise. If you peel away enough layers, and usually it’s not very many, so much comes back to race.
We’re all in all of this together, whether it be climate change, the attempted destruction of our democracy, racism, wealth and income inequality, or any of our other mounting problems. We each have a role to play. It all may seem daunting, but we can do this.