A study conducted by a USC professor recently found that low-income communities and communities of color are far more likely to be negatively impacted by climate pollution than their counterparts.
The report, co-authored by sociology and American studies and ethnicity professor Manuel Pastor, was released last Wednesday and showed that even though greenhouse gas emissions have decreased overall in California, many industries have actually increased their localized carbon footprints.
Common pollutants include particulate matter such as PM10, which has been linked to asthma, cancer, lung disease and heart disease.
Such illnesses can be costly, both in terms of medical care and income lost due to missed days of work.
Since the report states that communities who live within 2.5 miles of a greenhouse gas-emitting facility have a far higher proportion of low-income people of color, these already at-risk populations are faced with an additional threat to their health.
“Often, marginalized or impoverished communities are experiencing other socioeconomic challenges simultaneously,” said Monalisa Chatterjee, a professor of environmental sciences at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “In this case, these communities are located in close proximity to industrial activities with high pollution levels because of limited affordability and any increase in these pollutants immediately increases their exposure.”
California chose to implement the cap-and-trade program in 2013 as a means of reducing emissions. This means that every year the state sets a cap on the amount of emissions that all greenhouse gas emitting facilities must conform to. However, if the facility emits less than its allotted amount, it is allowed to trade the remainder to another company for a profit.
One possible reason for the localized increase is a loophole that makes use of offsets — a system whereby a polluting industry can offset its pollution in California by participating and investing in greenhouse gas emission-reduction projects. These reductions are added to the industry’s total in order to meet its target emission rates.
However, according to the report, 76 percent of offset credits were generated outside of California.
This means that even though these greenhouse gas-emitting facilities are meeting their reduction targets, they continue to pollute their immediate vicinities, increasing the risk of health complications for nearby residents.
In California, the cap on greenhouse gas emissions has been dropping annually. In 2006, the target was to reach 1990 levels of emissions by 2020, a target that was recently updated to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
While these goals may be attainable at the statewide scale, Environmental Student Assembly Co-Director Joshua Blockstein said that government leaders must not ignore those who are being directly affected by pollutants in their homes, with nowhere else to go.
“It’s a shame that these already challenged communities continue to be impacted by pollution,” Blockstein said. “For residents in lower-income neighborhoods, the harmful health effects of pollution can make it even more challenging to improve their quality of life and living situation.”
Gov. Jerry Brown recently signed a statewide deal that freed up hundreds of millions of dollars from the cap-and-trade program to be used in the fight against greenhouse emissions.
Out of some $900 million, $140 million will be channeled into helping disadvantaged communities combat local climate change.
However, the exact strategies were not specified and it is currently unknown how the money might be used to reduce the effect of pollutants on residents.
“Systematic evaluation of climate change policy and its impact beyond the process of global warming is very important in getting it right,” Chatterjee said. “We do not want to solve a problem by creating another problem that reduces the quality of our lives and ecosystems in the long run.”