In our latest Conversations With Data episode, we sat down with Melba Newsome and Dana Amihere -- two award-winning journalists covering environmental issues through the lens of race and justice.
Hailing from a health science background, Newsome now focuses more on environmental health and environmental racism issues in North Carolina. Meanwhile, Amihere is the executive director and founder of AfroLA News, a nonprofit newsroom that covers greater Los Angeles through the lens of the Black community. The pair provide insight into how they cover this important issue using data and solutions journalism. Below is our roundup of what we learned about environmental justice issues in this episode. Listen to the full Conversations with Data Episode 56.
What is Environmental Racism? Environmental Racism is the disproportionate burden of environmental hazards placed on people of colour and low-income communities. Policies and practices have historically forced these communities to live near mines, sewage works, power stations, and landfills. The term was coined by Benjamin Chavis at the Warren County protests in 1982.
What does the data tell us? Black and Latino communities still disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental degradation and climate change. Heavily polluting industries are more likely to be based in these communities, resulting in more health and respiratory problems. The data backs this up with higher rates of asthma and COVID-19 deaths among Blacks and Latinos than their White counterparts. Communities of colour suffer higher displacement rates from climate change and less generational wealth from past policies like redlining. Amihere points to Afro LA News’ published piece, Unequal air pollution legacy of LA’s freeway boom, highlighting this issue.
Environmental racism doesn’t just happen in the United States. It is a global phenomenon. In the podcast episode, Newsome talks about her experience covering environmental health and racism in North Carolina. In addition, she speaks to the displacement of indigenous communities in Panama due to global sea rises. She emphasises that the parallels between climate displacement in her home town and Panama are uncanny.
Examining race and forgotten vulnerable communities in your climate journalism is key. Data collection is still sorely missing from the narrative when it comes to reporting on race and climate change. We hear from Amihere how difficult it is to obtain relevant data from certain US agencies, especially in proper usable formats. However, she points to the Data Liberation Project, an initiative led by Jeremy Vine Singer trying to fix this problem.
Here’s what you can read to educate yourself on environmental justice Amihere and Newsome point to several good reads on this topic. Dumping In Dixie: Race, Class, And Environmental Quality is a seminal book on environmental racism by Robert Bullard. Newsome also recommends reading WASTELANDS: The True Story of Farm Country on Trial by Corban Addison. The book focuses on the hog farm industry in North Carolina. In addition, Amihere recommends Intersectional Environmentalist: How to Dismantle Systems of Oppression to Protect People + Planet by Leah Thomas. This must-read book makes the connection between environmentalism, racism and privilege.