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There are indisputable correlations between wealth and the production of greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC). Globally, the wealthiest among us produce the most emissions while the impacts of those emissions disproportionately affect those who contribute the least to the problem – that is Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-income communities.  

Economic policies, climate breakdown, and racism are among a wider set of factors that influence health outcomes and shape the conditions of our daily lives (CDC, 2022; Marmot, 2015; WHO, n.d.).  There are myriad examples of structural injustices in U.S. American communities and communities around the globe.  San Diego, unfortunately, is not an exception.  For instance, people living in Southeastern San Diego (e.g. Chollas View, Emerald Hills, and Skyline neighborhoods) go to emergency departments for asthma 4 times more often than people living in Coronado and 6 times more often than people living in La Jolla (OEHHA).  Because of increased environmental hazards, including traffic-related air pollution, San Diegans in lower-income communities inhale more pollution, which can have permanent negative health effects. 


Many who are advancing important climate action have rightly identified justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) as critical components of the work.  However, some continue to use models that perpetuate structural harms.  The images below have been used to illustrate the concept of equity and how it differs from equality.

Equality vs equity
Problematic framing

These images are deeply problematic as they perpetuate harmful notions that the people in underserved and overburdened communities are somehow below, or less than, people in communities with more access to opportunity.  

The portrayal of individuals' height as a representation of their access to opportunity perpetuates the false notion that those who have been subjected to generations of racism, pollution, and other ongoing injustices are somehow less complete (or in this case, smaller) than others. 

Structural inequality

A more accurate depiction shows people of the same size existing in an environment that makes access to opportunity easier for some and more difficult for others.  Rather than opportunity being out of reach or obscured because of a personal deficiency, it is more appropriate to depict people of the same height/size in holes of varying depths.  The holes represent structural barriers to opportunity.  

While still imperfect, the set of illustrations presented by Tony Ruth in the 2019 Design in Tech Report presents another way to view equity without depicting individual deficiencies. 



Environmental justice embraces the principle that all people and communities have a right to equal protection and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.  Dr. Robert Bullard is the Father of Environmental and Climate Justice.  To learn more about his work, see and the Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice at Texas Southern University.


We offer the following questions for those seeking to expand their work by making space for a diversity of worldviews: 

  • What do we mean by inclusion?  Inclusion into what?  Is including someone, without welcoming their whole self, inclusion or assimilation?

  • Is anyone being asked, implicitly or explicitly, to “tone down” their identity to fit into the dominant culture? 

  • What would happen if the whole person was accepted including modes of self-expression that fall outside of the established norm?

  • What would be the benefits of expanding ways of thought instead of maintaining the status quo?


Like our call to replace the problematic images above, antiracist research replaces the traditional question: “What is wrong with people?” with the more appropriate question: “What is wrong with policies?”  Antiracism must be integrated into climate JEDI work. 


The ways in which we communicate about structural injustices must continue to evolve as we ourselves continue to evolve and grow in order to effectively carryout meaningful climate action.  When speaking of ubiquitous structural racism and the internalization of systems of oppression, renowned antiracist scholar and historian, Ibram X. Kendi puts it best, “We were born in water.  It’s not our fault that we’re wet.”  We must remember to be gracious with ourselves and others when we inevitably make mistakes.


Bullard Center for Environmental and Climate Justice, Texas Southern University.


Bullard, R. (n.d.)

California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). CalEnviroScreen 4.0 Asthma


Center for Antiracist Research. Boston University.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2022, December 8). Social Determinants of Health.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). (2022). Climate Change 2022: Mitigation of Climate Change. Working Group 3 contributions to the Sixth Assessment Report. 

Kendi, I. X. (n.d.)

Marmot, M. (2015). The health gap: The challenge of an unequal world. The Lancet, 386(10011), 2442–2444.

Takvorian, D. (2020, July 16). Commentary: ZIP codes predict health and National City, Barrio Logan, San Ysidro and City Heights residents are at risk. San Diego Union-Tribune

World Health Organization (WHO). (n.d.). Social determinants of health.

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