In portions of rural America, residents lack access to safe wastewater sanitation. Without proper infrastructure, people on septic systems, mobile-home owners, and even those attached to sewer systems may end up with raw sewage streaming into their yards or backing up into their homes. The exposure contributes to diseases, some of which we thought we’d eradicated in the U.S. Catherine Coleman Flowers, a 2017 Fixer, discovered just how widespread this problem was when she returned home to Lowndes County, Alabama, around two decades ago — and as a lifelong activist, she resolved to do something about it.

As the founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice, Flowers works toward health and economic equity through the lens of climate justice. She was recently awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant and is the author of a new book, Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, which was published last week and chronicles her work to shed light on this often overlooked issue.

In 2019, I visited Flowers in Lowndes County, which has been called “Bloody Lowndes” due to a long history of horrific violence against African Americans, including lynchings. She and I met with local residents who struggle with flooding and failing sanitation systems, a changing climate, and diseases that have spread as a result. More recently, I had the chance to talk with Flowers at a Fix event on the future of climate and racial justice. Below are some highlights from our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Read the full article about climate change in rural America by Chip Giller at Grist.