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UCSD study finds that environmental policies preferentially benefit white people

UCSD study finds that environmental policies preferentially benefit white people

A study by UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy revealed that even though California is taking environmental measures to slow climate change, these actions preferentially protect whites over people of color.

The study, published in Nature Sustainability on Thursday, found that Asian and Hispanic communities are more likely to be exposed to air pollution from economic activity than predominantly white neighborhoods throughout California. The study’s findings show that California’s environmental regulations are more likely to protect white non-Hispanic citizens from air pollution.

The UCSD researchers analyzed 2020, when the state issued sheltering-in-place orders as a result of COVID-19. They used data from both publicly-owned and privately-owned air monitor networks and satellite measurements of the pollutant nitrogen dioxide to compare patterns of air pollution before and after the shutdown.

The researchers looked at many factors, including how many communities were sheltering-in place. They found that neighborhoods with high Hispanic and Asian populations saw a significant drop in air pollution during the period of the “in-person economy” being shut down. Researchers concluded that it is the opposite when things are going as normal. Poor air quality is associated with higher mortality rates as well as respiratory, cardiovascular and other illnesses.

The paper also found that low-income communities are exposed to more pollution when the economy functions fully and that these areas also had cleaner air during shutdowns. The researchers did not account for income in their analysis. However, this didn’t explain why there was a higher level of air pollution in the state for Hispanic and Asian communities.

Jennifer Burney, global climate policy chair at the School of Global Policy and Strategy said that only 15% of the significant decrease in air pollution experienced during the shutdown was due to income. This may surprise many, as people tend to confuse income and race. This is because systemic discrimination can be difficult to face and because it is common for individuals to buy’ cleaner air by purchasing higher housing prices in less-polluted locations.

Black communities also didn’t experience a similar disproportionate improvement in air quality during the shutdown. Black California residents were exposed at higher levels to pollution than whites, even though only essential businesses were closed during the shutdowns. This was true even after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. This means that power plants, electricity generators, and other emission sources not restricted by the shelter-in place orders are regularly exposing these people to dirtier air.

Burney and the research group stated that they consider this evidence of environmental policy failure.

Burney stated that “one would think that in an environment-friendly state, where we track emissions, our regulatory system might be able to protect everyone equally.” This is strong evidence of systemic bias.

“Pollution sources are from everything that was closed — transportation, businesses and restaurants, etc. She stated that this is because of business-as-usual circumstances. “Thus, the system is tipping, exposing racial or ethnic minorities to more polluting.”

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Although the study was limited only to California, the researchers believe the disparity in air quality among ethnicities could be found in other states.

The paper contains a variety of policy recommendations. According to the researchers, transportation was the largest source of pollution that was affected by the pandemic’s slowdown. Therefore, policies that reduce transportation emissions could have important effects on California’s underrepresented communities.

It is important to note that income alone cannot be used to determine if environmental strategies will achieve strong racial or ethnic equity. This suggests that environmental regulations must be evaluated on a variety of metrics in order to achieve equity and meet average environmental standards.

The authors suggest that communities are included in the planning process whenever changes are proposed to their environment that could have an impact on air quality.

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