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Sounding the Alarm On Climate Change

Coalition urging African Americans to make the environment a priority

By Ron Harris Special to The Atlanta Voice | 5/2/2014, 6 a.m.
In this April 3, 2014 file photo giant machines dig for brown coal at the open-cast mining Garzweiler in front of a smoking power plant near the city of Grevenbroich in western Germany. The U.N.’s expert panel on climate change released a report outlining the cuts in greenhouse gases, mainly CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels, required in coming decades to keep global warming in check. Photo by Martin Meissner/AP.

ATLANTA - They are an unlikely coalition -- an emerging rapper, a human rights icon, the head of the nation’s Environmental Protection Agency, an R&B heartthrob, a leading environmental leader, an actress and host on VH1 and a “hip hop” minister.

But RCA Records rapper Dee-1, the Rev. Gerald Durley, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, singer Raheem Devaughn, Green for All President Nikki Silvestri, television celebrity Amanda Seales and the Rev. Lennox Yearwood, president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus, have joined together tell Atlanta’s black residents that climate change and the state of the environment are more important to them and other people of color than whites because they are the ones who get hit first – and worse.

And as they toured the nation through March and April, they have been listing the reasons why environmental justice needs to be high on the list of African Americans’ concerns.

Asthma – More than 7 million children under the age of 15 have asthma, according to the Centers for Disease Control. One of the leading causes of asthma is air pollution, and African-American children and children of other ethnic minorities are exposed to more pollution than the rest of the nation, according to the EPA, because their neighborhoods are more likely to be boxed in by polluting factories. Consequently, black children have asthma at nearly twice the rate of white children.

Asthma is the third leading cause of hospitalization among children under the age of 15, and the EPA and the National Center for Health Statistics said the numbers show that black children are twice as likely as white children to be hospitalized for asthma and four times as likely to die.

“That is why the presidents wants to reduce the carbon pollution that unfairly affects African Americans,” said EPA’s McCarthy, part of a national tour sponsored by the Hip Hop Caucus that was in Atlanta last week at Clark Atlanta University. “Power plants are the number one polluters and they are in black communities. We have a moral obligation to act on environmental justice and climate change.”

Seales, who has appeared in a number of films and television shows, said she had a general sense of the importance of climate and environmental issues before she and her colleagues began the tour of five HBCUs – Clark Atlanta, Howard University in Washington, Hampton University in Hampton, Va.; Central State University in Wilberforce, Ohio; North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, N.C., -- and Wayne State University in Detroit.

“But as you go from city to city, you see how emissions and the failure of adequate standards of emissions have an impact on communities of color.” Seales said.

Cancer – Because black families and other minorities live disproportionately in communities that are close to factories and other major pollutants, they are at greater risk of exposure to the chemicals and other carcinogens they release into the water and air. Those pollutants can cause cancer and other ailments, as documented by the CDC and the story of Erin Brockovich and cancer clusters caused by chemical pollution of water in California.