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On climate justice: The air we breathe

There are two dangerous feedback loops that occur in relation to climate change, air quality and racial and health equity:

  • Extreme heat can lead to poor air quality and in turn poor air quality can cause rising temperatures. Data shows that when extreme heat and poor air quality combine, the effect on public health is vastly worse than when either extreme heat or poor air quality occur on their own.
  • Health disparities between racial and ethnic communities are worsened by the industries that have caused climate change and climate change in turn worsens disparities in health outcomes.

Ozone is an important naturally occurring gas that forms a protective screen between the earth and the sun - it helps regulate temperatures at the earth's surface and reduce the amount of harmful sun rays that reach us. However, as important as the functions of naturally occurring ozone are above the earth's surface, human generated ozone worsens the impacts of climate change at ground level. As ozone accumulates near the earth's surface we experience warmer temperatures due to its insulating properties and increased respiratory and cardiovascular stress because ozone limits availability of oxygen. Warming temperatures have also led to longer common allergy seasons which furthers stress on respiratory health for many people.

The majority of ground level ozone is generated via pollution from cars, power plants, refineries and chemical plants. For decades highways and industrial districts, where this gas is generated as a byproduct of transportation and manufacturing, have been built adjacent to and on top of low-income, communities of color. This pattern, an effect of racial covenants and redlining, means that today communities of color generally live in closer proximity to sources of harmful pollution and because of this, these communities experience much higher rates of asthma and cardiovascular stress than other communities do. 


This article is featured in Green Ramsey, an environmental health newsletter from Ramsey County. 
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Posted on Thursday, November 3, 2022 - 1:38 p.m.