America’s Dirty Divide

A series on environmental racism in partnership with The Guardian

California’s Central Valley grows a large portion of America’s food – and that requires a huge amount of water. But the region is experiencing a drought and drying up the surface water that farms rely on. So farms are now pumping water from underground. There’s a problem, though: it’s drying up the wells in vulnerable communities that have long relied on underground water.
Ironton, a small incorporated community in Louisiana, was devastated by Hurricane Ida. But the destruction was not inevitable. Founded by freed people who were previously enslaved, Ironton residents had to fight for running water, sewage – and levees. Federally funded levees built after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 stopped short of Ironton, leaving homes to flood during Hurricane Ida. Now, this historic Black community is left to rebuild yet again.
In the shadow of one of the world’s richest cities, the people of Mount Vernon, New York face an unpleasant problem inside their homes: sewage. The city’s under-resourced sanitation crew struggles to keep up with complications stemming from its crumbling, 100-year old sewer system—a system strained even further by the extreme rain brought on by climate change. Meanwhile, residents must shoulder the financial, emotional and health burdens when sewage backs up into their basements and homes.
As the United States turns to electric vehicles, solar and wind for its clean energy transition, the demand for lithium––the material that powers rechargeable batteries––is on the rise. In a remote corner of the Nevada desert sits Thacker Pass, the site of a planned lithium mine that would make a major contribution to domestic supply of the mineral. But the project faces opposition from members of nearby Indigenous communities, who say the area holds spiritual, cultural and historical importance and would be irreversibly damaged by large-scale mining activity.

Paul Crawford’s crops are dying. Salmon sacred to Frankie Myers’ Native American tribe are slipping away. Along the California-Oregon border, climate change is worsening a water crisis decades in the making––leaving farmers and Indigenous communities in the Klamath Basin scrambling to keep their traditions alive.

Trash incinerators are falling out of favor in cities across the United States, in part because they are a significant source of air pollution. Of the 72 remaining incinerators, the vast majority are located in predominantly low-income communities or communities or color – areas that already tend to see high levels of pollution. In South Baltimore, residents and environmental justice leaders are fighting to “starve” the nearby BRESCO trash incinerator.

Briana Flin produces videos for Nexus Media News, a nonprofit climate change news service. You can follow her @BrianaFlin. These documentaries were produced in partnership with The Guardian. It was made possible by a grant from the Open Society Foundations.