Climate Change is Increasing Poverty

By Gina Marks

Climate change is not simply an ecological catastrophe; its effects creep into all areas of society in subtle yet significant ways. According to former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, "Climate change not only exacerbates threats to international peace and security, it is a threat to international peace and security." A study published in the Climate Change journal indicates the correlation between climate change and social stability. It is made clear that climate change directly impacts the environment's capacity to sustain human society.

Climate Change and Food

This link between climate change and poverty is best seen at the dining table. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN revealed that the number of undernourished people has increased from 804 million in 2016 to 821 million in 2017. This rise has been attributed to a number of extreme weather events and low food supply, both of which are effects of unpredictable climate variations. We explored this connection by discussing the El Niño event of 2015 and how it led to food scarcity in different parts of the world.

Climate change also contributes to population movement. Changing rainfall patterns have transformed fertile lands to inhospitable wastelands in just a matter of decades. According to Peter Maurer of the International Committee of the Red Cross, "When [populations] start to migrate in big numbers, it leads to tensions between the migrating communities and the local communities." Thus, tribal and geopolitical tensions arise from population movement, something that goes under the radar of most political analyses.

Exacerbated by War

This effect gets even worse in war-torn areas. In countries with volatile political situations, such as Somalia, the lack of state presence can prolong civil conflict. Fighting between the Federal Government of Somalia and a host of armed militant organizations actually creates a feedback loop. It disrupts economic growth and political stability, while citizens caught in the crossfire have no other way to survive than through foreign aid or joining one of the factions. Environmental factors such as water scarcity and land degradation further intensify the economic roots of the conflict. In agricultural countries where the economy relies on predictable climate patterns, the smallest changes put the population in trouble.

Finally, climate change sharpens the inequities between developed nations and developing nations. Economically stable countries are more likely to mitigate the effects of climate change. On the other hand, many developing countries can hardly manage the situation. These circumstances can worsen the wealth gap between the levels of society.

Coming Together

Nonetheless, while climate change is a global economic liability, it also highlights the interconnectedness of nations. Territorial borders and different beliefs blur under the dark clouds of a looming ecological disaster. It's no wonder that more individuals and organizations around the world are starting or expanding various initiatives to address the issue.

Adoption of the Paris Agreement The Paris Agreement, for one, is monumental to the climate change cause. The recent Global Climate Action Summit also consolidated state leaders to build momentum for a federal climate change policy. On a smaller scale, there are efforts aimed at private citizens that are crucial in building awareness. For example, in the UK, Save the Children will host Christmas Jumper Day with the goal of encouraging communities to raise support for some of the most poverty-stricken areas in the world. At the same time, it aims to raise awareness on sustainable clothing and fast fashion, one of the most wasteful and resource-hungry industries in the world.

Perhaps it is time to think not as individuals or nations, but as fellow beings living under a single roof. If addressing climate change is the first step in alleviating poverty, then it is certainly worth everybody's time.

Written and contributed by Gina Marks. Gina is a high school social science and economics teacher, and a regular volunteer in poor communities as an educator. Gina shares her experiences and knowledge through writing for blogs and online publications.