Climate Change and Poverty
The UK government is leading the attempt to 'make poverty history'. I support the need to reduce poverty. But I fear that our efforts will be counter-productive if we see things in the usual way of pouring money and technology into so-called 'under-developed' nations. Because of the effects of climate change (CC).
- Biodiversity and Ecology. CC will alter the ecology of vast areas of the world, reducing biodiversity as species fail there. This will undermine other areas that impact on the economy, for example, food growing.
- Food growing. By changing the ecology, temperature, rainfall, humidity, wind patterns and climate of many parts of the world, food growing (agriculture, horticulture, family food growing in Africa etc.) will change, perhaps radically. Crops that used to grow will will grow less well. The profile of weeds will change. Those (e.g. in Africa) who are not Western affluent farmers will not have the resources, skills, learning opportunties, research and backup to make the necessary change. They will simply grow less and suffer. Western food growing might be able to respond by research into new crops and growing regimes, setting up the necessary training schemes, but this will be a huge financial drain, and growers will lose both food growing ability and income in the interim decade(s) until all has changed over and stabilised. During this time, Western governments and people may argue that, since we must spend more on our own farming, we cannot afford to give so much to the poorer parts of the world. The period of changeover might be a time of economic activity (e.g. among consultancy, research and training companies) but ultimately it will be a time of famine and a cost overall to the food growers. All this will exacerbate poverty.
- Disease. Disease regimes will change. e.g. Malaria in places where it does not occur. New diseases or new disease patterns in Africa. The different ecology may generate different patterns and even epidemics of insects, fungi, bacteria, viruses, etc. People, who at present, maybe know how to cope (more or less) with the current disease patterns, and at least 'keep their heads above water', will not know how to cope with the new patterns.
- Storms, etc. Storms will increase due the increased stored energy in the atmosphere. We have seen this already even in the UK. This will wreck whole communities in the less-developed parts of the world, especially in low-lying areas. Leading to more poverty. (And, as the oceans warm up - as they have by between 0.5 and 2 degrees - will not this increases stresses in the earth's crust, leading to more undersea earthquakes?)
- Refugees. It is expected that 150 million people will be displaced by rising sea levels. In addition much of sub-Saharan Africa will become unliveable. Another 100 million people displaced? Where will they all go?
- Water. Clean water is likely to become more scarce. Wars will be fought over water, it is believed.
- Arms, wars and corruption. Increasing tension might lead all nations - including in Africa - to spend more of their money on arms (because 'necessary'). Leading to money being diverted from relieving poverty. Also, idustry and corruption go hand in hand, contributing even more to poverty among the people.
Climate Change will bring Poverty
Thus, for at least these reasons as well as others that I have not mentioned, climate change is likely to bring poverty to at least the warmer parts of the earth.
Some of these will happen whatever we do now, because it is reckoned that climate change to 2040 is inevitable because of the climate change emissions we (the affluent 20% of the world) have poured out over the past three decades or more.
But the severity of climate change - and thus of the poverty that will be produced - from 2040 onwards depends on what we all do now, over the next few decades. In the developing as well as the developed nations. It is agreed (even by UK government) that we need to reduce climate change emissions by 60 - 80% by 2050 if we are to stave off this increased severity.
Will CC Emissions Reduce or Increase?
If we pour money into the 'under-developed' regions of the world - 'making poverty history' - then it is most likely that a large proportion of that money will be spent on things that increase climate change emissions among developing nations. The people of developing nations aspire to our (Western, affluent) standard of living and material wealth and convenience - to cars, roads, air conditioning, freezers, power-consuming appliances and so on. Much of the money for 'development' will go on road construction to enable and encourage greater car ownership and use.
It is acknowledged by the UK government's Climate Change Programme Review that the main threats to the future are residential consumption of power and road transport, with air transport following close behind by 2030. This is precisely the things that poured money will be spent on.
So, unless we - both affluent and so-called 'under-developed' - are extremely careful in how we 'make poverty history', we will merely generate the conditions among developing nations that will increase climate change emissions over the next few decades (rather than decrease it by 60-80% as is necessary).
And thus climate change will grow much more severe than it needs to, and will engender huge poverty that will undo and completely swamp our attempts now to 'make poverty history'.
I fully support the need to reduce poverty in the so-called 'under-developed' parts of the world, especially by cancelling debts, removing corruption, reducing arms sales, making people more self-dependent in growing their own food, and so on.
But it is ironic that our very attempts to 'make poverty history' could end up completely counter-productive, by engendering in the developing nations a lifestyle that incurs increasing climate change emissions, and the consequent increased severity of climate change that will devastate the poorer parts of the world.
It seems to many that the root of the problem is that we have, and are exporting, a false notion of what prosperity means along with a false notion of what 'development' and progress we should all aspire to. True prosperity is not solely nor even primarily based on money and GDP, and true progress is not tied to technology nor served by science. The Scriptures show a different notion of prosperity as shalom and of progress as the spread of adherence to the Living God.
If we are, and believe that God is, really concerned about poverty and injustice, then let us consider seriously that our selfish, affluent, convenient climate-change-generating lifestyles are to abandoned, not to be exported to the rest of the world under the laudable slogan of 'making poverty history'.
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2005.
Created: 3 April 2005.
Last updated: 16 May 2011 link to andrew repaired.