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ENEWS: Climate Change & COVID-19

Date Published: 10/08/2020

Author: Erin Wilson

Climate Change, COVID-19 and Disparities 

To keep climate change in the spotlight, we decided to do two newsletters in a row on environmental resilience— this time, we’re focusing on the intersection between climate change and the pandemic. At a time when less people are traveling and commuting, many are wondering whether it will have any impact, if at all, on climate change. In this podcast episode from MPR News titled “How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting climate change?” host Angela Davis talks with Paul Huttner, MPR’s lead meteorologist, and Kim Cobb, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, to tackle some of the common questions concerning this topic. 

“Climate change would be the top news story this year if not for COVID, and rightfully so,  COVID has been such a tragedy for so many in the United States,” said Huttner. “But you know, climate change is still there. COVID will eventually fade away, we hope in the next year or two, but climate change is a longer-term problem and a longer-term threat.” 

Another story from MPR, an episode from their climate podcast, digs into the future of firefighting in the time of climate change, when raging fires are tied to human activity. Particularly when the U.S. is struggling against a virus that targets respiratory systems, this is an important topic to analyze and understand.

“Covid, Climate and Denial” and Environmental Racism  

This article from the New York Times explores the similarities between those who deny the looming presence of climate change and those who dismiss COVID-19 as inconsequential or a “hoax.”

John Cook, a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, said there is a strong link between these two kinds of people. When the people in our circle hold certain beliefs, we are more likely to adopt those beliefs ourselves. This is happening with COVID-19 and climate change, Cook said, and makes leadership a critical decider in people’s attitudes. 

Only 10% of people in the U.S. are “outright dismissive” of climate change science, and only 12% are “not at all concerned” about the pandemic, so the trick is protecting the rest of the population from "scientific disinformation," he said.  

A powerful visual piece from the New York Times titled “How Decades of Racist Housing Policy Left Neighborhoods Sweltering” takes a look at predominantly Black neighborhoods in Virginia that were redlined in the 1930s, and how those same areas now have some of the hottest temperatures in the town. Way less trees and parks in combination with more paved surfaces keep the neighborhoods far warmer than nearby wealthy and largely white areas. Between one Virginia neighborhood that was redlined and a nearby neighborhood that was not, there is a 20 year difference in the average life expectancy. This problem is occurring nationwide.

“There’s growing evidence that this is no coincidence. In the 20th century, local and federal officials, usually white, enacted policies that reinforced racial segregation in cities and diverted investment away from minority neighborhoods in ways that created large disparities in the urban heat environment,” the article says. “The consequences are being felt today.”

The story features interactive maps that show readers which districts were historically redlined and are experiencing hotter temperatures, and comparing them to the surrounding, mainly white neighborhoods that have significantly cooler temperatures. When discussing environmental resilience, we must confront environmental racism. This article tells an extremely important story and serves as a crucial reminder that environmental justice and racial justice intersect— some of the people most heavily affected by climate change are low-income people of color. 

Environmental Justice Atlas 

With this Environmental Justice Atlas from the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy, you can see visual depictions of environmental inequality. Once in the Atlas, click the tab ‘Layers’ located at the top center of the screen. A drop down menu should appear, and you can click any number of elements to overlap on the map. For instance, try ‘Environment - Potential Hazards’ and ‘People & HH - People of Color.’ 

Upcoming Blueprint Breakfast on Oct. 14th

If you are interested in environmental resilience, you can join our discussion during our upcoming Blueprint Breakfast on Oct. 14th from 8—8:30 a.m., which you can register for now. We will be joined by Amy Fredregill from the MN Sustainable Growth Coalition! The coalition is made up of nearly 30 businesses and organizations that work as "a business led partnership harnessing their expertise to advance the next frontier of corporate sustainability — the circular economy." You can also take a look at our MN Equity Blueprint chapter on environmental resilience here.  

Quote: 

“We can see that racial equity and climate equity are inherently entwined, and we need to take that into account when we’re building our capacity to prepare.” — Alicia Zatcoff, the Richmond, VA, sustainability manager, in The New York Times 


“Both the coronavirus crisis and the climate crisis reveal that our world is inextricably interconnected, and it’s as strong or as fragile as those connections. We have to strengthen those connections. It is our only choice. The sun is going to rise again.” — Mary Annaïse Heglar, in The New Republic


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