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Chicago’s Environmental Disparities by Race Tackled by New Climate Bill

by Lauren V. Williams

            Senator Durbin’s recent climate proposal may be the first step towards dismantling how fossil fuel companies disproportionately hurt communities of color. Durbin proposes that the revenue generated from a tax on fossil fuel companies be redistributed to low and middle-income families across the country. Not only will this bill decrease carbon emissions nationwide, Durbin’s bill may address the vulnerabilities of Chicago communities of color who stand on the frontlines of pollution. 

            According to a 2018 study by the National Resources Defense Council, fossil fuel emitting industries are more likely to be placed into black and brown communities in Chicago. Distribution centers, factories, and highways continuously expose these neighborhoods to tons of carbon dioxide. As heat becomes trapped in the pollution, the average temperature rises. In Chicago, historically segregated communities of color are 1.3˚F hotter than average.

            On the other hand, white communities are 4.6˚F cooler than average. Instead of factories and fossil fuels, these communities are more likely to receive parks and trees from the city government. These green investments absorb carbon dioxide and shield these neighborhoods from the worst effects of rising global temperatures, such as disastrous health impacts. 

            Carbon pollution increases the susceptibility of black and brown neighborhoods to asthma, obesity and heart disease. These pre-existing conditions allowed COVID-19 to ravage these communities in 2020. Latino Chicagoans were 1.5 times more likely than white Chicagoans to die from coronavirus in 2020. Black Chicagoans were twice as likely. 

            Durbin’s proposal may be the first step towards addressing the link between racial discrimination and climate change. A tax on fossil fuel companies could decrease carbon emissions, which are oftentimes pumped directly into black and brown communities, by almost 40% nationwide. 

            Durbin’s bill could hold fossil fuel companies accountable not just for what their products do around the globe, but for what they do to the communities closest to them. Unfortunately, many of the families within these neighborhoods will be dealing with the medical expenses from carbon pollution for the rest of their lives. By redistributing the wealth of these multi-billion-dollar industries to low and middle-income families, thousands of people may be saved from bankruptcy as they grapple with their long-term medical care. 

            To be sure, Durbin’s bill won’t solve everything. It doesn’t directly address Chicago’s investment disparities, deep vestiges of Jim Crow segregation or the thousands of people already infected by pollution influenced diseases. However, Durbin’s climate proposal and Biden’s commitment to revitalizing American infrastructure could spur a wave of green energy investments and innovations that will be particularly felt in the communities of color most impacted by climate change. After decades plagued by pollution and disease, communities of color may finally see a cleaner and more equitable economy on the horizon. 

Lauren V. Williams
Lauren V. Williams

Lauren V. Williams is a Yale undergraduate from Chicago, Illinois. As the founder of The Young Vote, her mission is to elevate the voices of young people in the political sphere.