Speed Reads


John Oliver explores the deliberate causes and tragic costs of environmental racism

The main story on Sunday's Last Week Tonight was, broadly speaking, pollution. "We all suffer from exposure to pollution in this country, but some significantly more than others, thanks to what's called environmental racism," John Oliver explained. Black Americans are much more likely to be exposed to polluted air and live next to plants and factories than white Americans, even when controlled for income, he said, "proving yet again that racism is one of the few things in this country more powerful than money."

The disparity can be subtle or glaringly obvious, and the result can be deadly, with more than a decade of live shaved off of people living in the wrong ZIP code. "So given just how awful its effects are, tonight let's take a look at environmental racism: How it got this bad, how government and industry continue to fail people of color, and what we can do about it," Oliver said. He detailed some awful examples, interspersed with occasional flashes of dark humor.

"When you put all of this together — a history of racist zoning, ineffective regulation, and a government that continues to prioritize the profits of industry over the health of people — it is clear we have a massive problem," Oliver said. "And the good news is, the current president actually seems to agree with that," though the implementation of President Biden's pledges has been a little disappointing, he added. You can watch Oliver's examples and hear his solutions below.