According to Psychology Today, a toxic relationship is characterized by an unfavorable foundation for which people do not possess mutual admiration and respect, but are instead marred by a lack thereof. When we consider the effects of climate change amongst the world’s poor, this very definition is not far from our reality.
Take for instance this year’s hurricanes in the Southeastern states of America and the Caribbean. Richer nations -- as in those who had both the funds and the man power to mitigate against storm surge and toxic water, fared far better than their Caribbean counterparts. In the vulnerable areas which is the Caribbean, tough economic times were already a harsh reality as old infrastructure and dated energy systems were hardly a stance against fierce storms. While the storms brought attention to what we’ve come to long expect, it also highlighted an important fact: climate change is indeed rearing its ugly head on the poor.
Between scarcity of high paying jobs and the unfortunate circumstance of geographical location, many poor communities suffer the most under the tutelage of climate change. Posted in the journal known as Science in June 2017, an in-depth study showed a correlation between mortality and crime and its increase when temperatures rose in all U.S. counties. Among other economic indicators, labor productivity was another measurement which showed a decrease in crime with mortality instead seeing an increase. After extensive research and consistent patterns, wealthier communities did not appear to suffer the same fate. In contrast, these areas saw economic gains in the form of greater opportunities for land use or the ability to invest in clean energy or technology that combats climate change.
Harsh Realities Beyond the US
Poorer communities such as those whose income is at or below poverty level suffer greatly. In other parts of the world -- particularly nations that are economically challenged, agriculture is a driving economic force. When agriculture is affected by climate change, hunger abounds and death tolls rise. Nations in Sub-Saharan Africa are especially vulnerable to rising temperatures as observed during the 2011 East Africa drought. Tens of thousands of deaths were reported with some numbers speculated at 260,000. The direct effects came from irregular harvest seasons which lacked rainfall killing many crops. The drought also caused wage and profit losses with families suffering the brunt of the brutal climate.
Deteriorating air quality as a result of climate change is another serious concern, impacting those living in areas where megafactories are built due to low property values and despite the population in those areas. Air pollution levels in many of these communities is so bad that it is considered to be the number one environmental killer on the planet.
Take a moment to ponder that harrowing fact.
In India, airborne particles and toxins recently became so bad that U.S. based airline carrier, United Airlines cancelled flights to New Delhi. This has a direct impact to the tourism industry as hotel rooms remain vacant and restaurants and other tourist spots do not get much traffic.
Deforestation is also right up there with air pollution. Crop burning, usually done to make way for open fields for single crop production harms communities and forces displacement. Forested areas are generally located in non-urban areas. This is where the poor most often live and depend on forests for their livelihood. When land is devastated by deforestation, the carbon dioxide toxins which have been stored in the trees are suddenly released into the atmosphere. Those in surrounding areas are directly impacted as a result. What makes such situations all the more astonishing is the illegal logging practices that take place, leaving people in these communities susceptible to low wage jobs and unable to bring themselves out of poverty.
The Hunger Crisis & Climate Change
For many nations, agriculture represents a significant part of an economy’s GDP. If the agriculture of these nations is in any way threatened, its effects are far reaching. Failed crop yields not only contribute to an already hungry people, but it also does not help to alleviate disease. Weak immune systems as a result of a hunger induced society means common diseases have higher rates of becoming fatal.
Crop yields are wholly dependent upon the right temperatures and water. If they fail, it compromises food security and forces nations to import foods -- a move that is not always cost effective. Agriculture is also impacted by a rise in pest control. They too must eat and will seek out what little crops remain, thus destroying food sources for vulnerable areas.
What we can definitively say today is that no one is immune to the effects of climate change. But without stricter land regulations, tougher policies on the use of dirty fuels, incentives for large corporations to switch to clean energy use or opportunities for the poor to thrive in the communities in which they live, our planet will continue to fall into peril under the plight that is climate change.