From July 14-18 hundreds of people marched 43 miles from Medway to the statehouse in Boston to protest the gas pipeline tax. What follows is Daniel Abdulah’s inspiring speech that was delivered to the large crowd at a rally along the way. Daniel is a fifteen year old junior at Newton South High School. Appalled by the present harms of climate change and the scope of its expected impact on future generations, he sees efforts toward improving the environment as a key step toward saving our society.
The Worse of Two Evils:
Stark Disparity in Pollution Levels across Communities of Unequal Socioeconomic Standing
By Daniel Abdulah
I’m here to disclose a somewhat overlooked consequence of climate change and how it ties into our battle for racial justice. Although it is undeniable that the harms of pollution and climate change are felt by every single person regardless of who they are or where they live, there exists a disparity in how severely some people are affected. Unfortunately, it is often those in lower income households that bear the brunt of the impact, as environmental pollution occurs more often in communities of lower socioeconomic standing, which, due to years of institutional discrimination, tends to mean that communities of color are more strongly affected by pollution, which only furthers the race gap in our country.
This evidently is no coincidence. Such stark differences in environmental quality across different neighborhoods are possible due to the process of redlining. In this process, federal housing companies drew red lines around minority communities on maps and attempted to keep these citizens within these red lines through decades of biased loan policies and real estate agent steering that prevented minorities from buying homes in affluent areas. Now, decades later, we can still see the harms of redlining as many racial minorities are left at an unfair and inherent disadvantage due to discrimination which forced them into areas with poorer infrastructure, underfunded schools, and yes, more pollution.
Especially in cities, a plethora of hazardous utilities continue to degrade the neighborhoods around them. Whether it be from power plants, factories, or overcrowded cars and public transportation, soot toxifies the air while chemical waste pollutes the water. But beyond these examples, perhaps one of the most dangerous culprits is natural gas pipelines.
Before natural gas even goes into these pipelines, the extensive construction and consumption required to build the structure emits tons of noxious fumes and releases pollutants into nearby water and soil. After being built, the pipelines pose a serious threat of natural gas leakage, which exacerbates the methane excretion of the fracking process and leaks gas into the ground or even the water supply. Some leaks, when ignited, can cause drastic explosions, leading to extensive property damage and severely injuring those nearby, just as a Spectra Energy pipeline did this May in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania . Leakage of natural gas is a problem not only from fracking facilities and their pipelines, but also from the aging distribution pipeline infrastructure within all served neighborhoods. According to The Boston Globe, there are currently 20,000 such leaks in our natural gas infrastructure in Massachusetts described as potentially damaging and environmentally dangerous. With the inflictions of pipelines and other noxious infrastructure built in primarily low income communities, it’s almost no wonder that a 2014 study from the University of Minnesota found that racial minorities breathe in 40 percent more polluted air on net.
Admittedly, not all pipelines happen to widen the racial environmental gap directly, and the one we happen to be protesting does not exclusively harm minority neighborhoods. However, by simply being built, this pipeline would only propagate the fracking process and the use of natural gas. This in turn releases methane and carbon dioxide which circulate the globe, affecting everyone. And then, it is often those in low income communities who are most greatly affected as fewer healthcare facilities are available to help people cope with the physiological complications of air pollution and climate change as a whole. It’s important to keep in mind the rippling repercussions of corporate activity and government complicity.
I find this to be a problem on several fronts, and one that is unfortunately less highlighted as a consequence of industrial pollution. As this speech has outlined, pollution and climate change are not just issues of environmental justice, they fall along lines of race and income. Being informed about the present state of ecological disarray and how it ties into other aspects of our society is crucial if we’re going to find a solution. We need everyone – not just those directly harmed by excessive pollution due to discrimination, but anyone who is able – to step up in an act of compassion and work to improve the environmental quality of those unjustly disadvantaged neighborhoods. It starts with taking down this pipeline, and after years of action, it will end in a world made more nearly perfect through expulsion of the fuels that corrupted it.