I am eager to share this article with you as a part of a collaboration between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ethical Writers Coalition. All facts and figures were provided to me by the UNDP.
It’s almost 2017. It’s been over a decade since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released. Global temperatures are at an all-time high. The Arctic ice is melting at record-breaking speed. Extreme weather is constantly plaguing all corners of the world. Climate change is a real and urgent issue we face as global citizens.
I must admit: I haven’t always cared that much about the environment. My venture into conscious consumerism was more fueled by the people affected by our lifestyles: victims of human trafficking, modern day slavery, and slavery-like conditions in supply chains. The impact our products and lifestyles have on the environment was a lesser priority for me, much like it might be for many of you.
Maybe it’s because it felt like a distant problem, one that I very have little control over. Theoretically, no one is directly affected by my choosing to not buy that plastic, one-time use water bottle the same way someone was directly affected by the sweater I bought which was made in a sweatshop. But I was thinking about it the wrong way.
It didn’t take me long to realize how extremely interconnected everything truly is. Our contentedness in life in the western world is linked to the wellbeing of people halfway around the globe. Our daily actions impact those living in poverty in India. The way we handle climate change has a negative impact on the vulnerable in Haiti. Therefore, I cannot say I care about the people of the world who are trapped in poverty and susceptible to human trafficking without also caring just as deeply about the environment.
Let me say that again: You cannot care about the people of the world without caring about the environment. You simply cannot seek to solve one of these problems without trying to solve the other.
THE POVERTY PROBLEM
We all know that poverty is one of the world’s greatest problems, and has been for quite some time. Poverty is not only a huge issue in and of itself, but it is directly linked to so many other problems: hunger and food scarcity, disease, lack of education, violence, human trafficking and modern day slavery, violence against women, and inequality. I don’t think any of us would argue that if we could solve our world’s poverty problem, we would be able to simultaneously solve so many other issues as well. This is why it is so important to understand the link between poverty and climate.
HOW IT’S ALL CONNECTED
Extreme weather is one of the most immediate and obvious results of climate change, not just for those living in poverty, but for all of us. Earthquakes, tsunamis, tropical storms, and flooding are only going to become more common all around the world. In fact, the annual average loss from disasters amount to hundreds of billions of dollars, requiring an investment of $6 billion in disaster risk management every year.
Extreme weather and changes in weather patterns is something we should all be concerned about. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio (away from any oceans or large bodies of water), and earlier this year, heavy rainfall caused several people I know to lose their entire homes due to flooding. And though it is terrible, dangerous, scary, and extremely inconvenient for my community, we have still have insurance to get us new homes. We have savings accounts to get things repaired. We won’t get fired from our jobs or lose our livelihoods because of water damage. We have cars we can use to evacuate if we ever needed to. We have money and empty credit cards for hotel rooms and food. And we can easily get aid from others if we need it.
Those living in poverty don’t have any of that. And so when extreme weather hits, any progress that’s been made to rise out of destitution is set back. According to the UNDP, those living between $1.25 and $4 a day are the most vulnerable to falling back into into extreme poverty in the face of climate threats. It is estimated that by 2020, poorer countries will need about $100 billion per year to help adapt and mitigate the impact of climate change. That’s $100 billion that could be spent on actually improving their quality of life instead of trying to prevent them from becoming worse due to the change in climate.
In Bangladesh, for example, low-lying coastal communities face many climate change risks like cyclones, floods, and sea level rise. This not only leads to increased mortality and loss of overall assets, but it also increases the number of people living in poverty. To help combat food insecurity, raised mound ditches are built to protect crops from increasing tidal surges and storms.
But it’s not just extreme weather and tragedy that can keep or put someone in poverty. Changes in global temperature also lead to the expansion of dengue, malaria, and other infectious diseases, particularly amongst the urban poor. Water shortages and food scarcity are extreme threats that also come along with global warming.
Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with 57% of households living under the poverty line. Honduras faces frequent water shortages as only half of its water needs are produced from its watershed. Water scarcity will become more extreme because of climate change, leading to even more stress on its already short supply.
We will never solve the poverty problem without solving the climate change problem. And if we don’t solve the poverty problem, that means we most likely won’t get rid of human trafficking and modern day slavery. People will continue to die unnecessarily from disease and hunger, women and children will continue to be oppressed and uneducated, and violence, corruption, and crisis will continue. Do you see how this is all woven together?
SO THEN, WHAT DO WE DO?
The UNDP is doing a lot of work to mitigate the effects of climate change among impoverished nations and help them prevent total loss should they experience extreme conditions. A key strategy includes building climate-friendly agricultural practices, both in developing and developed countries. The UNDP is educating locals to coordinate and more effectively manage the risks posed by climate change, as well as empowering communities to be innovative and identify solutions on the local level. Stimulating small and medium sized businesses by reducing barriers to market is also an important task in allowing people to get out of extreme poverty. A key part of the strategy is getting local governments involved to integrate climate change risks into development plans, policies, and strategies.
But, of course, it’s not just up to the UNDP, the people living in poverty, or their local governments to fix or prevent these problems. When in fact, it is because of developed countries that they are at such risk in the first place. Yes, developing countries will suffer 99% of the causalities that are attributed to climate change, despite the fact that the 50 least developed nations have only contributed 1% of greenhouse emissions.
To me, that is the very definition of injustice.
So, if you didn’t care about the environment before, now is the time to start. I know it can be expensive, it’s not convenient, it might make you feel guilty. I know that from the comfort of our living rooms, it often doesn’t seem like it’s that urgent of a problem. However, the people in Bangladesh, Honduras, and Haiti would beg to differ.
So, start with baby steps. Begin by simply having a conversation, getting educated, and making yourself aware. Start recycling and drive just a little less this week. We can do it together, each one of us taking small steps each day to reduce our carbon footprint and fight for policy change. Our world, and everyone who calls it home, depends on it.