by Gwladys Boukpessi
As human beings, we all share the responsibility of taking care of one another. Regardless of the differences that separate us, the cultural barriers that define us, or the walls we build amongst ourselves, we all possess the subconscious obligation to ensure the successful continuation of our species, and provide a better future for generations to come. As sea levels and global temperatures continue to rise, we must remind ourselves that climate change is no longer a conversation regarding when we’ll experience its effects, but rather how brutal the consequences will be and who will be the most impacted. If we, the keepers of the earth and mankind, do not assemble and mitigate current environmental hazards and socioeconomic inequalities soon, then the unforgiving outcomes of climate change will continue to disproportionately affect the global population.
When wealthy countries inject their poisons into the Earth, those living in poorer regions have to bear the brunt of the Earth’s revenge.
In a fair and just world, only those who dare tamper with Mother Nature will feel her wrath. However, the world we live in does not equally punish offenders for the crimes they’ve committed. When wealthy countries inject their poisons into the Earth, those living in poorer regions have to bear the brunt of the Earth’s revenge. Generally speaking, those who come from low-income backgrounds are unfortunately the most vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change. Not only do marginalized communities have fewer resources needed to adapt, but they are also entrapped in a vicious cycle where, due to socioeconomic factors (such as their lack of income, lack of rights, and/or historical racism), they’re constrained to locations prone to environmental hazards. This geographical restriction results in disadvantaged groups disproportionately suffering from losses of assets and income, which then result in perpetual and systemic multidimensional inequalities, especially the widening chasm between the haves and the have-nots. The rich and the poor. The powerful and the powerless.
During the 2018 hurricane season, residents living in areas forecasted to be hit by Hurricane Florence were advised to evacuate their homes and head for safety. Picture this:you live in an area projected to be severely damaged by an approaching storm, and everyone around you has packed up their belongings and disappeared. You want to follow suit but have nowhere to go, and can’t afford to leave. When you’re financially privileged, it’s relatively easy to pack up your things, escape the rampant floods, and not worry about recovering from the destruction. However, not everyone can afford the bus ticket, gas, or hotel room needed to potentially save their lives, and are therefore forced to stay and endure the storm and aftermath. In addition to monetary burdens, other circumstances such as health restrictions and mobility issues can make it more challenging to flee the inevitable damages of climate change, and seek refuge elsewhere. From forest fires, to record breaking heat waves, to unforeseen blizzards and catastrophic floods, if we continue to neglect the mandatory changes needed to diminish the climate change repercussions, its magnitude will only intensify, and the survival of the poor will be in jeopardy.
On a more global scale, although the majority of greenhouse gas [GHG] emissions come from wealthy western countries such as the United States and parts of Europe, those living in developing nations across Latin America, Africa, and Asia are unjustly predestined to carry the weight of a dying planet. Climate change in particular exacerbates the world’s socioeconomic disparities by exposing the poorest people to the harshest conditions. Imagine you’re a sustenance farmer living on rural land just below the equator, and you’re barely surviving off the meager profits from this year’s harvest. Gradually shifting weather patterns, rising temperatures, and more frequent extreme weather events constantly threaten your livelihood and chances of survival. The soils keep drying and your crops keep dying. If the rains won’t come, then neither will your income. But if it rains too much, then you’ll have no choice but to watch everything you have be washed away from you. In addition, as climate change amplifies existing environmental, political, and socioeconomic challenges, there’s an increased likelihood of heightened competition and conflict over already limited resources. In the case of catastrophes and emergency situations, millions of families living in the developing world are routinely displaced and left to scramble for basic necessities such as food and water. As climate change advances, so will the global poverty rate. In due time, wealth will no longer be measured in money, but rather access to luxuries such as clean water and fresh air.
Peak levels of global hunger, water scarcity, and extreme poverty are some of the obstacles that lie ahead of us if we fail to formulate and implement policies able to sustainably address both climate change and socioeconomic inequalities. Accentuating the root causes of inequalities will allow us to resiliently design and adapt to climate hazards. In order to dismantle the vicious cycle between systemic injustices and climate change, we must begin by creating opportunities for inclusive and lifelong development. We don’t get to choose where we’re born, but we do have a say in how we leave the planet for future generations. The truth is, nature will continue to exist regardless of what climate change has in store. But, if we don’t start healing the earth now, this could be the end of all mankind.
by Gwladys Boukpessi
Gwladys is a senior at Lehigh University, majoring in Environmental Engineering with a minor in sustainable development.
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)