RE: From NPR “Study Finds Racial Gap Between Who Causes Air Pollution And Who Breathes It” – American Forests Responds

Who gets the privilege to breathe clean air? Do those who breathe cleaner air contribute more or less to air pollution? According to a recent study, inequity exists not only in the distribution of pollution but also in the consumption trends which fuel pollution’s creation.

In a recent article reviewing the study’s findings, Jonathan Lambert of NPR News noted, “The researchers found that air pollution is disproportionately caused by white Americans’ consumption of goods and services, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic Americans.”

Whether or not a community is exposed to air pollution is a function of many factors, including planning and zoning, proximity to industry, and the surrounding green infrastructure like trees.  Historical practices like redlining and putting public housing in less desirable areas often relegate low-income people and ethnic minorities to neighborhoods that are disproportionately exposed to higher environmental burdens.

In Lambert’s article, epidemiologist Ana Diez Roux shared, “If want to ameliorate this inequity, we may need to rethink how we build our cities and how they grow.” At American Forests, we agree. We believe one way of alleviating the toxic burden that many communities bear starts with Tree Equity. Trees, like other city infrastructure, are not equitably distributed. This means that healthy trees can disproportionately have a greater impact on communities that face poor air quality or flood risk. The inclusive involvement of all people to plan for, plant, maintain, and reuse the trees near them can transform a landscape, improve health outcomes, and restore a sense of investment into a community.

American Forests is making an intentional effort to increase tree canopy for all communities.  We work in cities like Miami and Chicago; places that have dealt with the effects of climate change, which have exacerbated environmental hazards for residents living in the floodplain and/or near toxic environmental sites. In Houston, we partnered with the City to conduct an urban heat map to help the people strategically identify tree planting opportunities.

We know that healthy, resilient communities are the result of thriving people, wildlife, and the ecosystems that support them. American Forests’ Community ReLeaf program helps cities across the country grow their capacity to plant and maintain their trees. Communities with the highest tree canopy needs tend to be those that have the highest unemployment, so we launched our Tree Equity: Career Pathways initiative to increase the recruitment and retention of more low-income people of color in urban forestry. Finally, we’ve compiled research and case studies on the benefits trees provide to our communities, as well as a step-by-step guide to managing your city’s trees in the Vibrant Cities Lab.

Join us as we work to develop Tree Equity where we live to help increase the number and quality of trees in low-canopy communities so that all of us can breathe clean air.