Climate Change and Class: A Look into Ongoing Social Change
Today, the proof and effects of global warming can be seen everywhere. News outlets discuss it nearly nonstop. Every major scientist in the world affirm that climate change is real is is a looming threat to humanity and our planet. It has even become part of everyday conversation for some. In most contexts, it is seen as an issue that affects everyone. But how often is it thought of as an issue of class, rather than one that concerns the entire human race? By examining different instances of climate change worldwide, it becomes clear that the poor suffer much more than the wealthy.
While many assume it to be a universal human right, many people do not have easy access to the food and clean water that they need to survive. Climate change has left tens of millions lacking the rights needed for a good life. As water mismanagement and overuse of resources takes its toll, many individuals are finding themselves unable to live comfortably as they used to. Instead, they are forced to adapt or find another more welcoming place to make a living. Water sources are drying up and leaving people without a stable way of life. In the near future, climate change could result in the relocation of tens or hundreds of millions of individuals as they find their homes uninhabitable, creating waves of refugees never seen before. The world will suffer as they take on the burden of those hurt as a result of the world’s combined high carbon emissions and overuse of resources.
One of the world’s leading bottled water companies, Nestlé, has been taking advantage of this ever-growing problem. In the nation of Pakistan, groundwater levels have fallen dramatically, resulting in village fountain water in many areas to be nothing more than a brown sludge. Nestlé has responded by increasing the sale of bottled water in the country — at a price. The company proudly promotes that they offer an alternative clean water source in response to the drying groundwater in Pakistan. Unfortunately, their bottled water is sold at prices that make it an out-of-reach luxury for most citizens. This leaves many Pakistanis without access to clean, dependable drinking water. As one of the few components necessary to life, poorer Pakistanis and people from other developing nations, which Nestlé have also taken advantage of, are forced to spend lots of money on the expensive bottled water simply to survive.
In the south Asian nation of Nepal, the ever-worsening effects of climate change are becoming more and more apparent in the fragile mountainous communities. High up on the slopes of the Himalayas, rural Nepali villages rely on the seasonal rains for the crops that sustain their livelihood. Climate change poses a great threat to these communities and their access to resources, especially fresh water. A recent study analyzed some of these villages and their potential futures as conditions worsen. Results showed that changing weather patterns led to poorer crop growth and a scarcity of food. Those who lack the resources to continue living well without the same seasonal rains suffer, while others who are wealthier and are not totally dependent on the weather can continue on. Social inequality rises, as the poor suffer and the more prosperous continue on with little impact on their lives.
With a small population and widespread poverty, Nepal has very little impact on the human race’s contribution. The biggest contributors to climate change, and therefore the most powerful sovereigns, are people in wealthy developed nations. Large nations, like China and the United States, are the ones that pump carbon dioxide into the air and garbage into the oceans at the fastest rate, pushing the people of Nepal further and further into poverty. The seasonal rains they depend on are changing to the point that they can no longer effectively grow enough crops to make enough food. As the people of Nepal become poorer and less able to survive, they begin to experience qualities of life that nobody should ever experience. While most people live out their lives happily, they unknowingly are worsening those of the unfortunate.
Another prime example of the intimate relationship between climate change and economic stability can be seen in Chiapas, the southernmost region of Mexico. A region known for high levels of migration, either to northern Mexico or the rest of Latin America, Chiapas sees many visitors come and go. A very diverse region, Chiapas is composed of everything from lush mountainous rainforests to flat coastal plains. In recent years, changing weather and water use have dried out the plains, desertifying the area. Chiapas relies heavily on ecotourism, a form of tourism intended to both have minimal impact on the environment and showing it off to tourists. As climate change renders the plains drier and hotter, people become less and less likely to visit. Efforts have are being made to conserve the region, like hydrography measures to reduce soil erosion and prevent flooding, both of which wash away important nutrients in the soil that allow plants to grow. Unfortunately, there is very little that the people of Chiapas can do to prevent the air from getting simultaneously drier and hotter. As the climate in the area worsens, the people who make a living off of tourism and its economic benefits will begin to suffer. Chiapas remains one of the poorest regions of Mexico, and will only continue to worsen as the climate worsens. The members of the tourism industry and related businesses are suffering. Unlike the people of Nepal, however, they do not suffer from a lack of resources. They instead lack steady jobs to make a living. Climate change makes tourists less inclined to visit the region, hurting the Chiapan people’s businesses. In this scenario, as potential tourists are less inclined to visit the region, Chiapans are stripped of their right to a comfortable and healthy life.
Even in first world countries people suffer from the effects of climate change. In southern California, droughts have become an increasingly alarming issue. While many effects, such as inability to water lawns and taking shorter showers, may seem insignificant, the drought has made significant and dangerous impacts. As the countryside dries, wildfires become more numerous and dangerous. Drier plants simply serve to provide more fuel to the raging wildfires that scourge southern California. Summer heatwaves have lead to increasing deaths tolls each year. Temperatures in Death Valley can reach peaks of 120 degrees, a dangerously fatal level. While the drought has been declared over, it is considered to be one of the worst droughts in modern history. Just because it is over and precipitation levels are back up doesn’t mean that things are back to normal. Individuals living in southern California can expect conditions to worsen as heat waves become more frequent and conserving water becomes a necessity. Slowly but surely, living conditions for southern Californians are worsening, no thanks to the work of the human race.
While many assume it to be a universal human right, many people do not have easy access to the food and clean water that they need to survive. Climate change has left tens of millions lacking the rights needed for a good life. As water mismanagement and overuse of resources takes its toll, many individuals are finding themselves unable to live comfortably as they used to. Instead, they are forced to adapt or find another more welcoming place to make a living. Water sources are drying up and leaving people without a stable way of life. In the near future, climate change could result in the relocation of tens or hundreds of millions of individuals as they find their homes uninhabitable, creating waves of refugees never seen before.
By studying how climate change hurts the poor (like those in developing nations) more than the rich (like those in developed nations), it becomes clear how polarized the issue is. Climate change isn’t just an issue that only affects a select few groups of people; it affects the entire human race worldwide. While it unfortunately affects certain people more than others, we cannot simply look the other way while people suffer. If people recognized how serious the problem is by seeing its effects firsthand, rather than not being exposed or being willfully ignorant, climate change would be a much easier problem to solve.
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