As cities across the country grapple with systemic racial inequity during a hot summer of civil unrest, calls for racial and environmental justice have gained momentum in places like Central Indiana, where 4 in 10 Black residents live in neighborhoods with high air-pollution risk. Recent findings from the Hoosier Life Survey, a statewide survey on environmental attitudes conducted by Indiana University’s Environmental Resilience Institute, show that race also plays a role in Hoosiers’ perceptions and vulnerabilities to climate change. According to the survey, in Indiana, people of color are twice as likely as white people to agree that climate change will harm them a great deal and 25 percent are more likely to agree that climate change is harming people in the US right now. Additionally, Hoosiers of color are more likely to recognize that climate change is happening. Researchers think one reason for the difference in perceptions is how Hoosiers experience climate change impacts, such as high heat days. Minority and low-income Americans are at higher risk of being affected by high heat. They are also more likely to live near environmental pollution and have less capacity to prepare for and cope with extreme weather and climate-related events. These social conditions cause a variety of adverse health outcomes, such as more severe cases of COVID-19 among Black people in cities like Indianapolis, while also increasing the vulnerability of individuals and communities of color to climate change. The difference in impact, researchers said, could explain why, when asked about specific climate-related policies, Black Hoosiers were about twice as likely as white Hoosiers to endorse policies such as public funding for air conditioning, free health services for vulnerable populations during heat waves, and a text-based early warning system to reduce heat-wave risks.
In addition to warmer days, summer is also a time when people like to gather with their friends. This can be especially true for young people who are out of school. But this summer, there has been growing tension between young people’s desire to gather socially and the need to social distance due to the coronavirus. In fact, with more young people contracting the virus, public health officials have been encouraging young people to limit social contact and to take precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus to others. So why don’t they listen? IU scientist Greg Lewis said young brains need social connection to feel secure about their identity and place in the world. Lewis explained that human beings turn to other human beings during stressful times and when those people are not there physically, our nervous systems tells us we are in a dangerous environment because our support system isn’t there. This issue, Lewis said, is not as prevalent in adults who have had time to develop their social networks through work and community and who have had time to find a partner who can help ground them emotionally. Younger people have not had the time to develop those connections and so find themselves missing social connection. Participating in ways to limit the spread of the virus is important. Moving forward, Lewis said, society needs to find ways to help community members of all ages balance the risks of infection against the need to foster essential social bonds.