Farmland and the Concrete Jungle

Growing up outside of the Atlanta city limits, surrounded by Georgia red clay and acres of green space, I was innocently oblivious to the effects of air pollution in my world. Summer vacations, however, were spent inside the city limits - East Point, GA to be exact. My aunt and uncle would have my brother and I excitedly pack our suitcases for a two-week 'staycation' in the city that was “too busy to hate.” As my uncle’s blue Volvo drove past miles of green pastures and eventually swiveled its way through the busy I-75 highway exchange, I observed the change in the “color of the air” and I noticed my hesitancy to now take the big, engulfing breaths that I enjoyed in my small town, on the humid summer nights filled with the sweet smell of honeysuckles and the intoxicating glow of lightning bugs.

In hindsight, I wonder if my trajectory would have been different had I grown up in an area that lacked access to one of the most fundamental rights seemingly guaranteed to all: clean air. Would I have grown up in an area exposed to harmful pollutants like sulfur dioxide and mercury? Would I have suffered from asthma and often been susceptible to life-threatening illnesses like cancer? Would my home have been more vulnerable to climate change-induced storms and floods? Would my neighborhood have had to bear the disproportionate brunt of the burden of decisions made by those who did not represent nor live in my neighborhood?

What are the costs when we do not account for the deadly effects of pollution in areas that disadvantaged populations call home? Often the risks and consequences are overlooked, leaving low-income, marginalized, indigenous people, and communities of color with a collective experience of disease and mistrust of those in charge of ensuring and creating equity in access to clean air.  These communities are now beginning to break ground and find a voice in repairing the damage created by dirty energy systems.

The EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) presents an opportunity for voices in “frontline” communities to be heard.  Through the CPP, states are called to engage in conversations and concrete action surrounding the impact of carbon pollution as described by those most affected in the process. Directed implementation of funding acquired from polluters can restore the power and pride back into the hands of the residents who have suffered the effects of pollution. However, for the CPP to translate into positive empowerment and investment in the aforementioned frontline communities, citizens and elected officials must engage proactively with a focus on social equity.

While we all currently experience the effects of air pollution in varying degrees, it is important to note that frontline communities experience pollution in an extremely different manner. Communities of color routinely fail to meet EPA standards for air quality, often attributed to their close proximity to power and coal plants. Comparatively, children in these areas experience excessive visits to the emergency room with asthma attacks, with African American children dying at alarming rates as a result of these attacks. With insufficient resources and less job security, recovering from personal health disasters becomes nearly impossible. The damage done in these neighborhoods should influence and continue to drive the decisions associated with the funding recovered from polluter fines.

With an equitable implementation plan, CPP can serve as a catalyst to addressing these issues by empowering neighborhoods with the necessary knowledge and foundation to begin creating an alternative narrative and a shift in resources.

For more information about an equitable implementation of the Clean Power Plan, visit


Alexis Carter is a southern historian and a middle school social studies teacher in Georgia. She enjoys reading, researching, and rewriting the narrative.

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  • published this page in All News 2016-09-30 05:36:34 -0700

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