Contrary to the belief that ‘global warming’ is synonymous with ‘more warm, beautiful, and sunny days,’ climate change brings with it a whole host of diverse, extreme weather patterns. As you can imagine, those who are most susceptible to feel these changes are those who have least sociological and economic defenses, and climate change is already posing public health emergencies around the globe.
Climate change is already disproportionately affecting low-income, disadvantaged populations. According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) published in 2018, “Risks [from climate change] are often highest for those that are already vulnerable, including low-income communities, some communities of color, children, and the elderly.”
The National Climate Change Adaptation Research Facility (NCCARF) from the University of Adelaide published a report in 2013 that highlighted the ways in which climate change is predicted to harm socially and economically disadvantaged populations. These groups include those who rent their home, indigenous people, and single-parent households. Among the humanitarian crises facing these populations, we are already seeing global warming cause migrations and turn people into refugees.
Amnesty International and Greenpeace are working together to host the inaugural Human Survival Summit this year to address the health crisis facing humanity posed by climate change. Children and elderly of all socioeconomic backgrounds are prone to experience health problems as a result of poor air quality, water quality, and anomalously hot or cold weather. Imagine if you were a low-income elderly person in the Caribbean who was also the guardian of several grandchildren…
One of the most important things to remember is that, even if climate change isn’t changing your daily life yet, it is already having serious consequences for the lives of poor and vulnerable populations around the world. Global warming doesn’t bother with country or state lines. We all share one planetary atmosphere and your personal carbon footprint directly influences the lives of people all over the globe.
Although education, employment, and social services are important for vulnerable populations, climate change has the ability to hurt all aspects of their livelihood including housing, food security, air quality, and access to clean water. According to a 2019 study, the people who produce the most air pollution in the US are not the ones whose health is most harmed by it – namely black and Hispanic minorities. By prioritizing the environment in your daily choices and on election day, you can drastically improve the lives of people worldwide.
India is one of the most populated, high emission, at-risk countries, causing them to already feel the negative impacts of climate change. Natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and extreme temperatures will continue to drive people to homelessness and also to crime. Island nations, like the Maldives, are likely to lose their homes as their islands become uninhabitable in coming years. Unfortunately, according to the UN chief, some parts of the world that will “pay a higher price” are places like Africa, whose countries have some of the smallest carbon footprints.
Being able to adequately adapt to climate change, considering that complete reversal is likely no longer possible, is a key step to protecting these groups and is gaining popularity. Adaptation measures have begun appearing in local legislature in places like San Francisco. Increasing our resilience is possible building seawalls and jetties, planting drought-tolerant crops, and improving forest management to avoid the spread of wildfires.
Mitigation is the slowing down of the process and lessening the severity of climate change. This can be done by both reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere through various methods. For more information on these options, take a look at the NCA4 chapters on adaptation and mitigation.