Athens, Alabama, isn't unique – and that's the issue. Streetlights are nonexistent, homes aren't connected to the city's sewage lines, and streets are poorly maintained.

But in the town, which is the third-fastest growing in Alabama, residents say this reality disproportionately impacts Black people, contributing to residents being expected to live shorter lives than 94% of Americans, according to White House data.

Climate change has only made the issue worse.

“Whenever it rains, the area floods,” said Diane Steele, political action chair for Athens' local NAACP. Over the past half-century, heavy rainfalls have increased by more than 25% in Alabama.

“That's also when you see the personal waste problem — there is [feces] back up into residences, people cannot flush their commodes,” she said. “It's really awful.”

This month, the federal government released its Fifth National Climate Assessment, which outlined that even though pollution in the U.S. is slowly falling, it is not doing so quickly enough to meet the nation's and the United Nations-sanctioned global climate goals. This report, which more than a dozen federal agencies and academic researchers worked on, is the most comprehensive government look at how climate change affects life in the country.

To learn how climate change is impacting your specific geographic region, click here.

For Black Americans in particular, the report affirms the harmful climate and environmental impacts that our communities, such as Athens, have faced for years.

The report, for example, found that over the next several decades, Black communities will experience double the amount of flooding events as non-Black communities. Without intervention, that means more communities like those in Alabama's Black Belt will be trudging through bacteria-filled floodwaters and falling ill at disproportionate rates.

Abre' Conner, the climate justice director at the NAACP, said the report is sobering, mainly because a lot of the report's climate impact predictions, like deaths from extreme heat, have already been harming Black communities for decades.

“We have to talk about environmental and climate justice issues with nuance – it is not enough for us to make pollution reductions if we're not being really clear about which communities are receiving resources,” Conner said.

“Because as we're seeing reductions, we're still seeing that Black communities are more likely to face flood issues, and they're more likely to have water infrastructure problems and be burdened with extreme heat and air pollution.”

What are the biggest climate challenges?

The report outlines several specific climate impacts that are expected to continue disproportionately impacting Black people:

Air quality: Air pollution is the world’s second-leading cause of death, and in America, Black communities are exposed to more pollution from every source than communities of other racial backgrounds. This reality is underscored by the report’s findings that the nation may not be reducing air pollution quick enough, so Black people remain overburdened.


Read More: Biden’s Big Plan for Environmental Justice May Actually Increase the Racial Pollution Gap


Water issues (flooding, drought, and drinking water): Black communities, the report found, “lack access to adequate flood infrastructure, green spaces, safe housing, and other resources that help protect people from climate impacts.” The report also said gentrification and the displacement of Black neighborhoods make them more susceptible to flooding because they are forced to move to even more “under-resourced communities … with less access to climate-ready housing and infrastructure.”

As Worldacad has widely reported, drinking water woes have had serious consequences for Black communities for decades, contributing to poor health outcomes. While the report spent a substantial amount of time outlining how climate change will disrupt access to drinking water, it failed to address how Black communities have already spent decades without reliable access to safe drinking water. Conner said this was a misstep. “I can't really think of any black community right now that hasn't faced water infrastructure issues,” she said, mentioning Jackson, Mississippi, and Shiloh, Alabama.


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Extreme heat: Black Americans die from heat-related diseases at a rate twice that of the general population. The report said this is a product of redlining or other discriminatory policies that leave Black and low-income neighborhoods “as much as 12°F hotter during heat waves than wealthier neighborhoods in the same city.”


Read More: How Labor Rights and Infrastructure Improvements May Limit This Silent Killer


Unreliable electricity during disasters: It has become more difficult to keep energy flowing, homes heated, and hospitals running during extreme weather events, the report says. Black people are most likely to live in older homes that are less energy-efficient and in areas where energy services are most unreliable.

This was made most evident in 2021 when Black communities in Louisiana and Texas were left without power for longer periods than white communities during Hurricane Ida and a severe winter storm, respectively. Studies show that without electricity, people die at elevated rates, meaning this is a life-or-death issue for Black America.


Read More: Why Upgrading the Nation’s Electric Grid Is a Racial Issue


Cultural loss: Climate change has already disrupted cultural activities across the country. This has been particularly true for Black Southerners who’ve lost the ability to do things like crabbing and fishing as waterways have either disappeared or become too polluted. The report also says, “Black landowners in the South face a legacy of unequal access to forestry extension and management,” which makes it challenging to retain ownership over their land and pass down farming skills to future generations.


Read More: How Black Farmers Are Navigating Climate Change With Limited Federal Support


Racism: This year's report is the first to explicitly outline how racism contributes to climate change’s impact on Black people. The last report in 2018 was not as widely reported because former President Donald Trump tried to bury its results as he gutted environmental protections and pulled the country out of the Paris Accords, a 2015 international agreement to lower pollution and address climate change. 

This year’s report says that “ongoing systemic discrimination, exclusion, and disinvestment” makes it harder for communities to prepare for disasters and to survive them. Not to mention how economic inequalities, like the racial wealth gap between Black and white Americans, and poor access to health care make it harder to thrive even when hurricanes and heat waves aren’t plowing through Black neighborhoods.

How the challenges are currently being addressed

The report's chapters focused on adaptation and mitigation do not explicitly mention efforts tailored toward Black communities despite earlier mentions of how climate change is particularly disrupting life for Black communities. The report instead focuses on how general climate spending priorities, such as the Inflation Reduction Act and the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, have taken steps to reduce emissions and lower the costs of cleaner energy sources.

“Having resources is definitely a great start, but if you're not strategically allocating the funds to the places where it needs to go or through the groups who are actually working with community members, then you can continue to perpetuate the same harm,” Conner says, referencing how Black residents in Jackson remain without access to reliable drinking water despite millions of dollars allocated to fix the city’s water crisis.


Read More: The Country’s Largest Climate Bill Threatens to Leave Black Communities Behind


Steele’s Athens, Alabama, is another perfect example. “We’ve seen our county receive millions in funding due to COVID and [American Rescue Plan] funds, but that money hasn’t been used in terms of bringing equity to communities,” Steele says. “It is not always a funding issue.”

The money is indeed available. Last week, the Biden administration announced $2 billion in funding to be distributed to climate and environmental community organizations working in “disadvantaged” communities over the next year. In theory, this addresses Conner's concerns, but what efforts will be funded is unclear.

“The tools are there; we just have to continue to build the power,” Conner said.

Adam Mahoney is the climate and environment reporter at Worldacad. Twitter @AdamLMahoney