Campaigns such as the annual European Mobility Week aim to spread awareness to how much greenhouse gas we emit because of our lifestyle choices and initiate a change in our behavior to ultimately reduce the emissions and slow down global warming.
Since we have access to so much, like cheap flights, cheap meat, seasonal fruits and vegetables available all year around, electricity, gas, to name a few, our carbon footprint is so high, it needs to be compensated by those, whose carbon footprint will never reach our level, because they simply lack the access.
Global warming is not a problem that future generations have to deal with. The effects of global warming are visible today. With the rise of temperatures whole ecosystems get disrupted and we experience dangerous weather extremes, like hurricanes, floods, extremes in temperatures and water shortage.
Coastal cities fight against the sea level rise, while droughts destroy crops and thus the source of income and food for thousands of people.
Low-income countries and low-income families in those countries as well as in developed countries will remain on the frontline of climate change. Or, as Philip Alston, the UN-rapporteur, put it, ‘climate apartheid’ is awaiting us in the near future.
While weather extremes, like extreme heat waves, can be felt anywhere and by everyone, rich or poor and healthy or at risk, they primarily threaten those who are lacking resources, since e.g. they are unable to afford air conditioning, pay the hospital bill for heat-related health struggles or escape to cooler areas in the countryside until the heat wave has passed.
Social inequality and climate change are linked and affect each other. Initial social disadvantages deepen disproportionately from natural disasters, resulting in more social
inequality. It’s a vicious cycle: socially disadvantaged people experience more exposure to natural disasters and are therefore more prone to suffer severe damages. Also, because of their lack of access, they have difficulty coping with and recovering from these damages.
For example, disadvantaged groups are more likely to live in areas, that are more prone to flooding.
Also, they are more vulnerable to experience damages resulting from flooding. Their houses are more likely to get washed away or be completely destroyed, because they are made of poorer and instable material.
Lastly, they don’t have the means to recover from these damages. While the rich have the resources to repair the damages, build a new house or get compensated for the damage by their insurances, the disadvantaged usually can’t afford new material to repair or build a new house and don’t have insurance, which ultimately deepens their disadvantages.
Unfortunately, natural disasters have a twofold effect. The direct effect is the aforementioned damage resulting from the natural disaster, like flooding or severe drought. In addition to that, with the natural disasters usually affecting a whole country, a rise of general price level is anticipated, making it harder for them to buy basic goods.
When another natural disaster hits, the disadvantaged are even more likely to be affected by it and the process repeats itself. This has proven to be a reliable pattern in recent years, whenever natural catastrophes hit: they leave with great damage and deepen already established inequalities.
This is what the majorities of Puerto Ricans experienced, after the country was hit by deadliest hurricane in 2017. To this day, water supplies have not been fully restored, hospitals and school remain destroyed and the economy is heavily struggling to recover.
The weather extremes have already impacted the sub-Saharan Africa and its agriculture as well. Years of severe drought have ruined a majority of crops. For the first time in years, world hunger rose in 2019. A continent that is still recovering from imperialist exploitation, political instability and is trying to regain economic autonomy, will feel the disruptive effects of climate change quite strong, with millions of people being pushed to poverty and food insecurity, even though it contributed relatively little to the rise of greenhouse gas emissions.
Countless coastal cities will be affected by the rise of the sea level and environmental extremes by 2050. It is estimated that 1 billion people will be displaced, resulting in refugee crises that will surpass the crisis from 2015. This on the other hand, will mobilize right-wing groups and destabilize the ‘western’ world as well.
To make matters worse, a recently released study by Oxfam showed, that the rich are responsible for more than half of carbon dioxide emissions. The poorer half of the world’s population is responsible for only 7 percent of the emitted co2. The reason for that is, that the rich are on a consumption frenzy, supported by political agendas that encourages never-ending consumption and promises everlasting economic growth. They speed up global warming with their lifestyle choices, which hits those, who contribute only a small part to greenhouse gas emissions, worst.
Sure, developing countries contribute to the rise of greenhouse gas emissions, too, but they do so in their attempt to participate in the wealth, that thrived in the ‘western world’ since the beginning of industrialization and regain autonomy with the end of imperialism.
Coming back to the Rumi-quote from the beginning, the actions of the individual won’t make the sea turn to glaciers again or microplastic disappear from the oceans and it may feel like the self-imposed sacrifices of the individual (such as ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’, ‘go vegan’, leave the car at home, avoid overseas flights) are just that – restrictions – that only affect the quality of life. And it’s true to some degree. We can’t stop global warming anymore, but we can slow down the process, give the next generations some time to find solutions ours couldn’t and most importantly let our planet breathe for a while. The earth has proven over and over again, that it has the capacity to heal itself.
Just recently it was discovered, that the giant ozone hole above Antarctica, which scientists came across in the 1980s, is shrinking. The earth’s protective ozone layer is healing itself and could be completely healed by the middle of the century. According to a UN report the healing process is attributed to the ban of ozone-depleting substances from 1987. Apparently, the earth has restorative capacities and it is believed that by making some adjustments and sacrificing part of our comfortable lifestyles, some of the manmade effects can be reversed. Ultimately, as residents of this planet, we are all affected by global warming, but until it’s our turn, it will hit the poor first. As we saw above, there is not much, they can do to delay the process. But we can. It’s time we acknowledge how we live beyond our means and how privileged we have been for the last 150 years and even though colonialization has ended, it’s mostly those former colonies that have to shoulder our overabundance.
Besides, we don’t have any other option left, so we might at least try, right?