How Negative Effects Of Climate Change Impact Communities Of Color

Pollution and climate change are already negatively affecting people’s well-being, and the effects are even harsher on communities of color, Mike Augustyniak reports (4:00) WCCO 4 Saturday Morning - April 24, 2021

Video Transcript

- As Earth Week 2021 comes to a close, I wanted to talk with you about your health, because Earth's health has a direct impact on it. Specifically, pollution and climate change are already negatively affecting our well-being, and the effects are even harsher on the Black community. Zeke McKinney, a Faculty Physician of Occupational and Environmental Medicine with HealthPartners, and Professor at the U of M School of Public Health, explains how the most vulnerable among us suffer the most.

ZEKE MCKINNEY: Well, first of all, let me clarify the myth that climate change and global warming are not exactly synonymous. I think people have always kind of used the term global warming. And to some degree, that's true, because overall, the globe is, in fact, getting warmer. But within local temperature areas or local weather patterns, you're going to see more extreme events. So that means here in Minnesota, we might actually get colder weather, not warmer weather necessarily. So it's not just as simple as, you know, is it hotter or is it colder? It's all the downstream effects of that that can be a problem as well.

- One of those downstream effects is actually air quality, right? Air quality suffers in warmer summer pattern in particular. How does that impact public health?

ZEKE MCKINNEY: With increased bays with worse air quality, of course people are going to have more asthma exacerbations. And that's going to be true for everybody, but for people who are living in areas with higher degrees of air pollution in general, that's going to be worse. And those tend to be people of color or people who are more financially unstable. And similarly, those same communities aren't getting as good of healthcare already, aren't having as good of access to health insurance already, and we're already seeing higher rates of chronic disease and worse outcomes in those communities as well.

So essentially, all of these things are mutually reinforcing. They're additional problems that continue to make the existing problems worse.

- Living next to concrete buildings or highways, those are urban heat island areas that tend to hold the heat, not only during the day, but particularly at night.

ZEKE MCKINNEY: Absolutely true. I mean, I think that's where the term concrete jungle got coined in the 1980s. We see a lot of heat trapping with these heavier density concrete environments, which is why having green spaces in parks is so much more important. But of course, that's of course, a health impact for people who are especially very young and very old, where heat can be a significant stress for them. And then, again, if you're somebody who has economic instability, housing instability, you being able to pay to run air conditioning for several days straight might be a problem.

Talking about it more broadly. So with the changes in the climate, we're going to see big shifts in environmental health impacts. So, for example, mosquitoes being present at more times of year than they were previously. You might see transmission of, let's say, for example, insect or vector-borne illnesses such as West Nile virus, with a degree in terms of spread. Or across the year than we would see otherwise.

- How are we doing, would you say, as a community or as a state? And what are some of the challenges that we're facing right now in making more progress on this issue?

ZEKE MCKINNEY: I'm a data-driven person at the heart of everything I do. And so, if we know that there are people who are more profoundly affected, and those same people have less resources, then by extension, I would say we should be providing more resources to those people in those areas. For example, we're going to put solar panels into those areas and subsidize the power generation of those areas for homes, and give people lower power bills so then they, for example, can make sure they have access to air conditioning when we have more extreme heat wave events.

It's an issue that's not going to go away, and we're going to be impacted by it sooner or later. That doesn't make it more or less important than other issues of social justice going on right now. But it's one that we can't forget about because it isn't in our face today.

- The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is considering adopting statewide clean car standards right now. There is a link to more information at Jen.