Hazel Johnson is now known as the “mother of the environmental justice movement,” but back in 1979 she was a mother of seven children with respiratory and skin problems, and the widow of a husband who died from lung cancer a decade prior. Living in Altgeld Gardens on the South Side of Chicago, in a housing project that was surrounded by factories, landfills, industrial buildings, and sewage treatment plants, Johnson began to investigate the chronic health impacts on her community from surrounding air and water pollution. She learned that her family and her neighbors had been exposed to toxic fumes, asbestos, and contaminated drinking water, and that her community had the highest cancer rate in the city – leading her to call Altgeld Gardens “The Toxic Donut.”
I moved to Chicago almost seven months ago, and I’ve found many Midwest stereotypes to be true – the people are very friendly, the winters are very cold, the food is crazy good, and the beer is even better. But one stereotype – that the Midwest won’t suffer any severe consequences of climate change – is completely false. While we don’t have hurricanes, and live right next to the largest body of fresh water in America, the Midwest is not exempt from climate impacts – and has plenty to worry about as Earth warms.