Communities that face environmental health disadvantages often see a higher rate of sickness and disease, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services. These issues arise in communities that face a variety of “social inequities,” the NIEHS states. One of these problems, urban heat islands, is the unequal distribution of heat throughout a city.
The unequal distribution of heat disproportionately affects the socioeconomic class. A January 2021 UC Davis study shows that California has a wider disparity in the distribution of heat than other Western states, including Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and Arizona. Specifically, in the Inland Empire and Palm Springs, where the median household income is $70,757 and $53,441, respectively, temperatures showed a difference of up to six degrees Fahrenheit between the two counties.
The study also concluded that on an average summer day or an extreme heat day, the poorest 10% of communities located in urban regions faced, on average, a four-degree increase in temperatures than the wealthiest 10% of communities in urban regions.
A difference of four degrees doesn’t sound terrible. But the study goes on to say that the disproportionate distribution of heat affects lower socioeconomic groups, which already have reduced access to essential services such as cooled housing and transportation, thus compounding the four degrees into a larger problem. The result of this is an increase in health issues including cardiovascular and respiratory complications.
Los Angeles Times journalists Tony Barboza and Ruben Vives reported a variety of factors can contribute to the unequal distribution of heat. These factors include the amount of tree cover and paved surfaces (which can reach temperatures of up to 150 degrees Fahrenheit), among others. Urban areas, containing more paved surfaces which absorb heat, often have less “green spaces” than more suburban and more affluent areas.
Largely, this plays into the historical & discriminatory practice of redlining. In Barboza and Vives’s article, they comment that due to redlining (“policies that excluded [minority groups] from real estate investment and environmental racism,”) their communities were often the sites for more industrial facilities and freeways, and overlooked as potential places for more green spaces.
Green spaces provide numerous benefits. People who spent at least two hours in a green space (called “forest bathing”) achieved a decrease in depression, obesity and blood pressure and a better immune system. Additionally, Withrow reports that parks were one of the many ‘escapes’ from the pandemic. However, those without this escape could not experience the same treatment.
According to CalMatters, a nonprofit newspaper, one of the ways this problem is being solved is through the Transformative Climate Communities program, enabling residents of impacted communities to determine and establish their own goals for addressing community needs.
But an in-depth analysis conducted by the Greenlining Institute discovered that TCC is underfunded, makes it difficult for under-resourced communities to participate, and, in short, more funding is needed for the program to be more successful.
The finding reports that Gov. Gavin Newsom’s 2021-2022 budget includes $420 million for TCC over the next three years, and the institute suggests consistent funding is needed for the future.
“This [TCC] approach represents a model for national climate change efforts that should be replicated at both the federal and state levels,” according to the Greenlining Institute.