By: Ally Bauer

Anyone with a basic understanding of climate change knows that the Earth is being severely impacted by the pollution that humans have caused over the past 260 years. Of course I could hit all of the usual talking points, rising sea level, burning forests, hurricanes, etc. However, most of these issues are often spoken about so constantly that we become desensitized to how pressing these issues really are. Instead, I am hoping to grasp your attention and concern by writing about effects of climate change that are often overlooked. In America, women of color are disproportionately impacted by air pollution, global warming, and food/water security and quality.

One of the biggest causes of illness that is directly related to climate change is particulate matter 2.5 or PM2.5. Exposure to these particles can cause a number of heart and lung related health issues. It’s been proven that communities of color (mainly Hispanic and Black communities) are exposed to higher concentrations of PM2.5 when compared to white communities. The biggest reason for this disparity is based on where these communities tend to live.

Living conditions are not only based on income, but they have been largely affected by the remains of the redlining system that was implemented beginning in the 1930s. The Home Owners’ Loan Corporation (or HOLC) created maps that outlined and graded districts that largely determined whether or not a bank would be willing to give someone a loan. These grades, that ranged from hazardous to best, were largely, if not solely, based on the proportionality of racial and ethnic backgrounds found in the neighborhood. This system wasn’t fully prohibited until the late 1970s and continues to put Black and Brown people at a disadvantage.

Factories and industrial buildings are constantly being placed near these same neighborhoods. This not only lowers the value of the homes but lowers the quality of life considering these buildings are responsible for 22% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Along with a greater exposure to air pollution, the lack of parks and trees in formerly redlined communities have led to a massive increase in temperature because the pavement and asphalt absorb and radiate heat. The difference in temperature can reach as high as 20 degrees Fahrenheit and leads to a higher risk of heatstroke and other heat-related illnesses. Communities in formerly redlined areas are more likely to be exposed to harmful toxins in the air, less likely to have fresh food and drinkable water, and more likely to die from overheating.

The connection between climate change and racism was a much expanded upon topic that was easy to write about, but women of color are even more likely to be placed in these situations and exponentially less likely to be able to get out of them. Black and Hispanic women make, on average, only 62 and 54 cents to the white man’s dollar. They are less likely to get an education, become employed, or receive a loan. With all of the disadvantages women of color face, climate change tends to go unnoticed, but it is essential that we acknowledge and attempt to change the fact that their right to life is being threatened by inequality.

Historically, advocates for the climate have been white males. They tend to focus on legislation that gives benefits and tax cuts to large corporations for following vague and ineffective guidelines. This does little, if anything, to help the Black and Brown communities at risk and can even promote further exploitation of land and employees. Even when more progressive ideas are pushed through congress, like the Green New Deal, they are often thought of as ‘too progressive’ and ‘unattainable.’

Without the help of our government, cultivating and protecting the land that we are given is the best way to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to connect with our Earth. This is why gardens like our Botanical Garden at Cornell are so important. These spaces, when located near urbanized areas, allow Black and Brown communities to breathe cleaner air, eat fresher food, and escape the endless concrete that surrounds them every day. Health benefits that the Botanic Gardens produce like stress relief, stronger human connections, and a boost in your mood, can be shared with those who need it most. When we think about the Botanic Gardens, when we are immersed in the beauty of nature, we have to think about the deeper connection these gardens have with the Earth. They are a symbol of hope and prosperity in a world of destruction and suffering.

The Cornell Botanic Gardens are a space of serenity in a place of privilege. It is easy to forget that these gardens are not available to everyone. Whenever I get the chance to visit on a weekend or in between classes, I cannot help but to notice how lucky I am to have access to such an amazing environment. I hope when you visit the garden in the near future, you are able to enjoy it as much as I do while remembering that you are in a place of privilege.

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