For years, experts have warned us about the effects of climate change, but lawmakers bow to pressure from lobbyists and corporations. One common talking point among American politicians in particular is that we shouldn’t care so much about the environment. We should care about people. The reality is that the environment and people are inseparable; by ignoring climate change, governments put their most vulnerable citizens at risk. The poor, minorities, women, and children will be the first to suffer, but eventually, everyone will. Here are five of the most significant ways climate change endangers humanity:
- Food and water
Climate change triggers major weather events like droughts, floods, and more. These in turn threaten the food and water supply everyone depends on. The vast majority of the world’s crops depend on rainfall, but with changing patterns, crops will die of thirst or get destroyed. This affects not only the humans who depend on crops, but livestock. Meat and dairy production will go down. Less food means higher prices, leaving the poor unable to access adequate nutrition. This is already happening in places like Ethiopia, which suffered its worst drought in three decades in 2016 and 2017. The BBC reported that 10 million people required emergency food aid.
An international study published in the Lancet declared that extreme weather events could undo vital the past half-century of health gains. Climate change’s effect on the food and water supply has the clearest impact on human health. In addition to poorer nutrition, increased CO2 in the air makes crops that do survive less healthy. In areas that become more tropical due to increased rainfall and higher temps, insect-borne diseases will rise as mosquitoes and ticks flourish. When extreme events like hurricanes hit, the power grid might go down, leaving people in hospitals and nursing homes without the life-saving technology they need. Mental health is just as important as physical health and climate change impacts that, too. In the face of starvation and poverty, suicide rates will go up. We saw that happen in Puerto Rico, when people felt like they’d been abandoned.
When children don’t receive a good education, cycles of poverty and crime continue. However, in areas where climate change hits hardest, children are not going to school. Heather Randell, a graduate from the Nicholas School of the Environment, discovered that children living with mild temperatures and good rainfall stay in school. However, when climate change hits an agricultural society hard, parents are forced to pull their kids out of school because they can’t pay fees. They also need their children to work and bring in income to supplement what’s been lost. Climate change will produce generations of uneducated people unable to escape poverty.
The divide between the rich and poor has never been wider. The developing world and poorer countries, especially tropical ones, will be hit hardest by climate change since they experience the most extreme weather events. According to an October 2017 report, these countries will also have the hardest time recovering from major events. In terms of gender inequality, women will most likely suffer the most as they are the ones left to care for families and small farms. They also have fewer opportunities and less education, so their options are limited. On the other side, wealthier countries are more likely to experience positive effects of climate change like longer growing seasons, furthering the division.
- War and violence
As climate change ravages the food and water supply, exacerbates poverty, and drives people deeper into desperation, war and violence will most likely increase. One much-cited study that analyzed natural disasters and armed conflicts between 1980 and 2010 found that armed conflicts tended to follow climate-related events. Some studies also show that gender-based violence might increase as climate change worsens. While other factors play a role, it is certainly true that climate change makes existing violence worse.