As part of our weeklong recognition of Mental Health Awareness Week, today we will talk about how the environment in which we live impacts our mental health. In particular, we’ll focus on the most pressing environmental crisis confronting California – the historic drought we’ve experienced over the past few years.
A couple weeks ago, The Fresno Bee published a terrific feature on how the drought is impacting mental health in East Porterville, an unincorporated community in Tulare County. The article does a great job of highlighting some of the health repercussions of the drought in a community of roughly 7,500 residents, three-quarters of whom are Latino. The main thrust of the piece, however, is about the mental health impact of the drought on this community.
“In a town whose problems already include air pollution, water contamination and poverty, the drought has spurred a growing health crisis, worsening respiratory conditions and burdening those with other illnesses.
It gets worse.
… In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other federal agencies published a guide about protecting public health during a drought. The guide refers to studies in Australia and India that showed elevated levels of suicide among farmworkers living in rural areas affected by severe and extended droughts.
Among those most at risk for drought-related health effects, it says, are “people living in rural or remote areas who depend on water from private wells and small or poorly maintained municipal systems, the quality of which is more susceptible to environmental changes.”
At CPEHN, we recognize that environmental conditions have a tremendous impact on our health. In our report, The Landscape of Opportunity: Cultivating Health Equity in California, we discussed how those living in areas with worse air quality are more likely to suffer from asthma and other chronic health conditions. We also showed that in California, the majority of people living in areas with adverse environmental conditions are from communities of color.
However, according to an article published this week by California Healthline, the study used an older version of a state environmental health tool (CalEnviroScreen). As a result, the inequities could actually be even starker than the report indicated. In the article, CPEHN Executive Director Sarah de Guia discussed the differences between CalEnviroScreen 1.1 and the 2.0 version and how the new version should yield more detailed results:
Ever wonder what Californians are getting out of the more than $1 billion invested in energy-saving programs, buildings codes, and appliance standards every year? A new NRDC and Environmental Entrepreneurs (E2) report contains the answer - a lot!
Ten years ago this weekend, the world watched as Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast and laid bare the inequities that are deeply ingrained in American society. Perhaps no single event has ever highlighted the intersection between race, poverty, climate, and health as clearly as the devastation in New Orleans.
Katrina put a spotlight on an uncomfortable truth: that millions of people in this country live in abject poverty and that communities of color are far more likely to experience the consequences of the country’s entrenched inequality. In 2005, nearly 40 million Americans (roughly 1 in every 7) lived in poverty. A decade later, there has been hardly any change in the nation’s poverty rate. In Louisiana, 34% of Blacks live in poverty compared to 10% of Whites. High poverty rates have made housing less affordable, and as a result, low-income populations and communities of color often live in areas of concentrated poverty in substandard housing with the constant threat of eviction. Even though Katrina took place nearly 2,000 miles away from California, the underlying social factors that exacerbated the destruction experienced by low-income communities of color – particularly African Americans – are evident here and throughout the country.
This post originally appeared on TransForm's blog, TransForum.
Across the state, a dozen different agencies are doling out millions of cap-and-trade dollars to hundreds of communities. But who’s counting?
Last week, we launched ClimateBenefitsCA.org, a new website that lets you see what projects California’s cap-and-trade program is funding, and how these investments are making our state’s communities more sustainable, healthy, and fair.
Climate Benefits for California is a searchable online map that shows how California’s climate program is improving people’s lives. You can use the map to see what projects are funded; filter them by geography, program, or year; and add up the benefits.
With the help of the data wizards at GreenInfo Network and a team of collaborators, we’ve collected the grant information released by multiple state agencies and transformed it into a one-stop shop. Here you can find, view, and assess the impacts of investments funded through the California Climate Investments Program (CCIP, formerly the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund or GGRF).
The map also tells the stories of the people and communities who are turning these investments into solutions to our state’s most pressing environmental, social, and economic issues.
Ground-level ozone, which is formed from car and power plant emissions and is a primary component of smog, poses considerable health risks for all, but especially for children. At the start of the new century, in 2001, the six California counties with the most high-ozone days were all located in the Central Valley and in Southern California. More than a decade later, while the total number of such days is down by 64% across California, the same six counties continue to suffer from the worst air quality (by that measure) in the Golden State, according to the most recent data available on kidsdata.org (see map at right).
In 2013, Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Riverside, and Tulare counties experienced more than 40 days with ozone levels above the U.S. regulatory standard. San Bernardino County, however, had 93 high ozone days, nearly eight times the statewide average of 12 days per year.
The American Lung Association State of the Air 2015 report, released last week, showed that while progress has been made, California continues to have some of the worst air pollution in the country. In fact, 28 million Californians live in counties where ozone or particle pollution levels can make the air unhealthy to breathe. (Click on the map to enlarge.)
Covering air pollution data from 2011-2013, State of the Air 2015 shows that California cities still dominate lists for the most polluted areas in the nation for ozone (smog) as well as short-term and annual particle pollution (soot). Several cities had both higher year round averages and unhealthy days on average of particle pollution driven largely by drought weather conditions.
Specifically, of the top ten cities in the nation with the worst air pollution, California metropolitan areas rank as follows:
Yesterday, Governor Jerry Brown ensured that California would remain at the forefront of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in response to the growing threat of climate change. In an executive order, Brown stated that the state must cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. This interim target will help meet the goal of cutting emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, as established by Brown’s predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
“In North America, California is now setting the pace, and we're very serious about it,” Brown told a crowd of hundreds at a climate change conference in Los Angeles. “We're going to take whatever steps are needed to get the job done, because our future depends on it.”
“Studies have shown that communities of color and low-income communities are more likely to live in areas with high exposure to pollutants, which can lead to higher levels of asthma and other respiratory conditions as well as cardiovascular events, low birth weight, and premature deaths.”
In the same report we discussed improving air quality as a vital strategy to address some of the key environmental determinants of health. We stressed that California should remain a leader in developing standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Welcome to Friday Facts! Each week we'll be taking a look at a specific chart from the Data & Resources section of our website. This week we're focusing on the number of unhealthy air quality days each year as a result of ozone pollution in Riverside County.
While we have focused a great deal on health outcomes and socioeconomic factors contributing to health disparities in California, another root cause is our environment. It is much harder to live a healthy life when the air you breathe can cause you harm. For today’s Friday Facts, we’re looking at a particular form of pollution, ozone, in Riverside County.
As you can see from the table on our Data and Resources section, everyone living in Riverside County experiences roughly six weeks of unhealthy air quality days due to ozone pollution each summer. While there are some disparities (for example, African Americans average about a week’s worth of unhealthy days more than Whites), it is clear that this is an issue impacting all communities in the county. But what does “unhealthy air quality days” mean? Well, in this instance it is the number of days between May and October that have a level of ozone in the air that is higher than what is considered safe by federal standards.
Every year, dirty air kills over 9,000 Californians. Shockingly, more of us die from traffic-related pollution than from traffic-related accidents. Smog increases rates of asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, and the five most polluted cities in America are all in California.
Fortunately, something amazing is happening in California. We’re charging polluters for the damage they cause and using that money to clean the air, save families money, and bring investments and jobs to communities that need them. But too few Californians know this is happening, or the good it’s doing for our neighborhoods. UpLiftCA will change that.
UpliftCA is a comprehensive campaign, with websites in both English and Spanish, which tells the story of how California’s climate policies are helping low-income communities and communities of color: cleaning the air, creating jobs and saving consumers money. The sites feature real-world stories, resources for both consumers and businesses, and more information about the laws. We invite you to visit UpLiftCA and share it with everyone you know. Come learn how California’s climate and clean energy laws and our fight against global warming are helping to build healthy, thriving neighborhoods.