Hot temperatures in minority inner-city neighborhoods is caused by systemic racism, new study says

A new study from a professor at the University of Washington claimed a lack of trees in minority neighborhoods causes higher temperatures.

The study asserted the reason that fewer trees appear in minority neighborhoods was because of racism and white supremacy.

A professor at the University of Washington-Tacoma has found another example of what he says amounts to racism: hot temperatures. 

In a recently released study, Christopher Schell and seven co-authors examined the correlation between rising temperatures and minority neighborhoods in inner cities. The authors analyzed “existing research to link racist practices – including racial segregation – to the observed heterogeneous patterns of flora and fauna observed by ecologists.”

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The paper claimed that “our contemporary fight for civil rights in the wake of unjust murders and continued racial oppression of Black and Indigenous communities stresses the need to interrogate and abolish systemic racism.” Moreover, it claims that “insidious white supremacist structures that perpetuate racism throughout society compromise both public and environmental health, solidifying the need to radically dismantle systems of racial and economic oppression.”

In a tweet from August 13, Schell used the findings from his study to “make a call to action to the scientific and global community alike to address, reconcile, and interrogate systemic racism, classism, sexism, Indigenous rights, etc., because these forms of structural violence are devastating the natural world.”

The University of Washington promoted the study on its website, quoting Schell as saying, “Racism is destroying our planet, and how we treat each other is essentially structural violence against our natural world."

Schell and the study's co-authors argued that systemic racism facilitated city planners to plant more trees depending on the particular racial makeup of neighborhoods. This is important because, during hot days, trees can provide relief from the heat and help lower temperatures. 

The study contends that White wealthy neighborhoods received ample amounts of trees planted while minority neighborhoods were purposely omitted that luxury. Additionally, the study claims that “affluent urban residential neighborhoods generally have greater vegetation cover, canopy cover, and plant diversity.”

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"The geographic distribution of urban heat islands and tree canopy cover in cities is also stratified by race: multiple studies have repeatedly demonstrated that land surface temperatures are magnified for racially minoritized groups in many U.S. cities with certain racial groups more vulnerable than others," the study asserted.

Schell said during an interview with KING-TV in Seattle, “No trees mean the reduced capacity to have a cooler environment. And that's exactly why it's hotter in some low-income neighborhoods where they have very few trees, very few vegetation to cool the environment. Where the buildings are, where the impervious surfaces were essentially that hard cover, right, the concrete, where the trees are, that's all influenced by the policies that say where stuff is going to be and those policies themselves are racist.”
Campus Reform reached out to Schell but did not receive a response in time for publication.

The authors of the study cited “various ecological attributes in cities are principally governed by the spatial and temporal scale of social inequities.” Pertaining to the layout of minority neighborhoods the authors analyzed, the study acknowledged “the uneven distribution of urban heat islands, vegetation and tree canopy cover, environmental hazards and pollutants, access to healthy waterways, and the relative proportion of native to introduced species are strongly dictated by structural racism and classism.”

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The paper concluded with the suggestion to incorporate “environmental justice principles into how we perform and interpret urban ecology.” 

It concluded that “doing so is both our civic responsibility and conservation imperative for advancing urban resiliency in the face of unrelenting global environmental change.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @chris_tremoglie