Racing to Reduce Emissions: Assessing the Relationship between Race and Carbon Dioxide Emissions from On-road Travel

Published In

Sociology of Development

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2018


The environmental implications of racial inequality have been discussed by sociologists almost exclusively as matters of environmental justice or injustice, where scholars analyze how racial inequality affects a community's rate of exposure to environmental hazards. The present study seeks to assess how race and income independently and synergistically affect the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) from on-road travel across and within counties, using longitudinal data from 3,079 counties in the continental United States. We incorporate these data into a hybrid panel model to test the effect of racial composition over time and across space. We find that, over time, as the percentage of White individuals living in a county increases, the county emits less CO2 from on-road transportation. Across space, counties with more Black residents (as a percentage of total population) emit more on-road CO2 than other counties. To connect our findings with the broader environmental sociological literature, we also explore the interaction of race and affluence, finding that the effect of racial composition is influenced by variation in local affluence across space. Specifically, affluence reduces the correlation between percentage of Black residents and emissions. Conceptually, we argue that through the process of subnational uneven development, environmental privilege manifests as a distinct dimension of environmental racism that affects how specific racial groups experience environmental degradation.


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