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Systemic racism is a nightmare for plant and animal diversity too, says major study

Biodiversity is closely tied to racial equality, say scientists.

Systemic racism is a nightmare for plant and animal diversity too, says major study
[Photo: Fourleaflover/iStock; rawpixel; Annie Spratt/Unsplash]

A new powerhouse study in Science finds that systematic inequality leads to a horror show not just for communities of color, but for surrounding wildlife and biodiversity.

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Researchers from the University of Washington looked at 170 studies to analyze how systemic racism impacts surrounding ecology. In a word: catastrophically. They found that poor, urban communities of color are also low on biodiversity, while high on rodents, disease-carrying pests, and temperature. The latter is known as the “heat island” effect, where areas with less natural water and greenery have higher temperatures, which in turn fuels the negative effects of climate change.

The paper is largely a call to scientists for adoption of racial equality as a cornerstone of environmental health: Redlining and other discriminatory housing practices lead to neighborhoods with fewer trees, plants, and animals, often near dumping or industrial sites, which leads to more pollution, and a downward ecological spiral ensues.

“I hope many of my senior colleagues would start to rethink how they do their science, and for those scientists coming up, that this gives them the platform to say: ‘No, this is a legitimate question: How do we reduce, minimize, abolish racism in America?'” lead author Christopher Schell, assistant professor of urban ecology at the University of Washington at Tacoma, said in a release.

He points to research that studies urban and rural environments without accounting for communities’ demographics. He hopes that measures like affordable housing, urban green space, and public transportation become standard environmentalist issues—and that scientists will realize their power in both inadvertently supporting and, in the future, abolishing white supremacy.

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