This year's Earth Day theme is "Invest in Our Planet." However, when discussing saving and protecting our planet, we seldom mention how the earth's natural disasters and environmental injustices affect those in the Black community's mental health.
This fall marks the 18th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This Category 5 hurricane sieged on states along the Gulf Coast, including Texas, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana, with the latter significantly impacted in the southeast region, New Orleans. Storm surges that caused extreme winds and rising water broke the city's levees and caused more than 1.3K deaths, billions of dollars in property damage, displacement, and psychological effects still plaguing those affected to this day. In another case, Flint, Mich., experienced significant environmental injustices that have and continue to have residual effects on the health and safety of those in that community.
Scientists, environmental conservationists, and environmental policymakers and advocates have found a link between human behaviors and changes in the climate. For example, recycling reduces the amount of garbage in landfills that reduces the toxins that go into the air and land. These actions help those struggling with respiratory health issues. Currently, Black Americans and Native Americans have the highest rate of asthma. In addition, taking shorter showers minimizes the water used for other leisurely activities like swimming pools and lawn upkeep. Also, water is essential to our lives and is not an infinite resource. Unfortunately, the Flint, Mich. water crisis proved how when there is improper oversight in our local branches of government, those most vulnerable bear the brunt of the discrepancies.
How does doing our planet's conservation duties relate to mental health?
Costs. As mentioned earlier, asthma is prevalent among the Black community, so clean air is necessary. However, according to a 2011-2015 U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, treating respiratory issues cost $7 billion ($901 per person). These costs can add surmountable stress to families with family members suffering from this condition.
Access. Many of us believe that access to clean water is free and available to every U.S. citizen--this is contrary to the truth. From 2010-2019, the price of water for an average four-person U.S. family reached $72.93 a month. In addition, contaminated and improperly managed drinking sources can contribute to preventable health issues and risks to life. Black communities are susceptible to structures like manufacturing plants near their water sources because the land price is lower. When industries are not regularly monitored with a high level of government enforcement, the opportunity to dump chemicals into waterways is higher. Lack of essential resources, like water, can contribute to feelings of fear, anxiety, and depression.
What can we do this Earth Day and every day to help the planet and our psychological well-being?
When you can opt to carpool, use public transportation, and walk, ride bikes, or run.
Take shorter showers or baths, don't allow water to run when doing activities like brushing your teeth, and be intentional when participating in behaviors that use a lot of water to produce (i.e., purchasing clothes).
Use energy-saving light bulbs or motion lights, unplug items, not in use, and when appropriate, choose kinetic energy (energy produced by the body's movement) and renewable energy (energy that comes from natural sources like the wind or the sun).
Do you want to learn more?
Climate Mental Health Network | https://www.climatementalhealth.net/
National Weather Service | Extremely powerful Hurricane Katrina leaves a historic mark on the northern Gulf Coast
Natural Resource Defense Council | Flint water crisis: Everything you need to know
Environment Protection Agency | Air pollution: Current and future challenges
National Institutes of Health | Safe water and your health
United Nations | What is renewable energy?