Equity & Environmental Justice

A woman and a small child walk through the rubble of a disaster stricken area with a few palm trees standing in the background

The Issue 

Climate change is a problem that is expected to drastically impact low-income communities. Communities of color, with lower educational attainment and lower household income are disproportionately burdened by extreme heat, air pollution and a variety of other environmental conditions that compound when considering the differential quality of healthcare and opportunity experienced by different communities. Urban centers lined with concrete in impoverished communities can often become heat islands that produce unbearable temperatures in the summer while their proximity to busy interstates exposes residents to high levels of pollution. While some individuals may be able to relocate to avoid rising sea levels and storm-prone areas, not everyone has this option. Those who are able to move can escape these effects while those who cannot afford to do so will remain impacted. The new front in the battle for equality is the fight for climate justice.

CHI Research & Action

CHI researchers are exploring the ways in which climate change is causing disproportionate burdens on marginalized communities, and the ways in which we can equitably mitigate the health impacts from climate change. For example, a recent analysis used the natural experiment of COVID-19 lockdowns, a period when passenger vehicle traffic dropped by about 50%, to analyze disparities in traffic-related air pollution across the U.S. CHI researchers have also estimated that air pollution-related health risks vary dramatically within cities, using the Bay Area, CA, and Washington, DC as examples. GW faculty are leading innovative science-policy programs to advance novel ways of researching climate injustice and amplifying voices of underrepresented minorities in environmental health. Analyzing the multiple aspects of environmental injustice can provide an understanding of the root causes of the inequity of climate change and raise the awareness needed to enact change.

Our Experts

Susan Anenberg
Director, Climate & Health Institute
Associate Professor of Environmental and Occupational Health and of Global Health
GW Milken Institute School of Public Health

Neelu Tummala
Clinical Assistant Professor of Surgery
GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences