Ask Renee: Air and water pollution risk black lives daily 

Black lives matter

Black Lives Matter protestors gathered Saturday at the Statehouse - PHOTO BY KATHERINE COPLEN
  • Black Lives Matter protestors gathered Saturday at the Statehouse
  • Photo by Katherine Coplen
I’ve been sitting here trying to get motivated to answer one of your questions, but it just doesn’t feel right to talk about foam or compost and ignore what’s going on in the country right now. I typically try to avoid current events and issues outside of my green living focus, but not today. I can’t.

I’m troubled by the events of last week (and, let’s be real here, people, a lot longer than that). I’m confused and hurt and angered and saddened by many reactions to these events. And am uplifted by others. I’m heartbroken for the families and friends who are mourning. I am upset that people I know and care about question their safety in certain situations. I worry about my friends at RecycleForce, but am grateful that they have mentors that can help them learn conflict resolution skills.

Meanwhile, I’m also frustrated that environmental issues can’t seem to get the same kind of traction that social issues do. Air and water pollution place black (and, yes, all) lives at risk every day. A few not-so-fun facts:

71 percent of black people live in counties that violate federal air pollution standards, compared to 58 percent of the white population. Black people are 3 times more likely to die from asthma-related problems than whites.

68 percent of black people live within 30 miles of a coal-powered power plant, compared to 56 percent of whites.

Communities of color are more likely to live in food deserts. 2.3 million Americans live more than one mile from a supermarket and do not have access to a vehicle. Minorities make up the majority of this population.

Black and poor children are 8 times more likely to be poisoned by lead than those from higher income and white families.

It’s time to start doing things – from respecting others to recycling a can, from not engaging in violent acts on other beings to not engaging in destructive acts on our environment – because they’re the right things to do, not because of money or power or fear. Those things have proven time and again to only end badly.


P.S. No matter the color of your skin, keep on living green. 


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Renee Sweany

Renee Sweany

Renee has spent the past several years surrounding herself with like-minded people who share her passion for caring for the planet. She began writing “Ask Renee” after four years of offering green tips through her e-newsletter Green Piece Indy. E-mail her your green living queries at
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