By Rebecka Bjuremalm
It is in the moments of transition that we reflect on change. What has induced the change, and where are we headed as a consequence of the change?
The environment’s transition is global and acute. Forest fires, flooding and food shortage are already complicated problems, and when climate refugees start seeking their way from tarnished, flooded and inhabitable regions, pressure will increasingly be put on remaining habitable countries. The consequences of climate change are life changing for a large number of humans, and forced migration exemplifies this. The heating of the earth will require adaptations for all of us. However, we are not all affected equally. In order to find solutions and join forces, maybe we must first address the underlying inequality of both the causes and consequences of the greatest change of all, climate change.
There seems to be a large variation in how humanity is affected and on what scale, depending on preconditions in different regions of the world. In an article in Times Magazine, Justin Worland presents new research that indicates how the warmer temperatures caused by climate change have had the biggest impact on particularly vulnerable groups in poverty. Higher temperatures are more than 90% likely to have resulted in worsened economic output in most poor countries, compared to countries that are wealthier where it is not indicated that results are as dramatic, in some cases even showing increased economic output. With extreme heat, productivity drops and crops are subject to bad harvest. This could, for certain countries, mean that average income could decrease as a consequence of environmental problems. Vulnerability could also be demonstrated via the destruction of infrastructure, or in some cases even more dramatic, via the disappearance of small island states as a consequence of extreme weather. Even though poverty has decreased globally, certain regions are clearly more vulnerable.
In a similar way, we are also not equal in terms of how we have contributed to the accelerating climate change. The lifestyles of the richest have links to climate related problems for the poorest, and those struggling to adapt currently have not primarily caused the heating. Put in a historical perspective, the nations that industrialised first have a greater responsibility in heating the planet. Yet, the negative impacts for poorer nations compared to wealthier nations could create the risk of further increasing inequality globally.
Common but differentiated responsibilities are lifted as a way of recognising inequality when looking at future solutions. This means that specific problems, given different circumstances in different countries, should be distributed proportionally, when it comes to finding adequate solutions to these problems. So what is currently being done in an effort to turn trends around? Even though the environmental and carbon emission prognosis as of the latest report is negative, international collaboration is key to create an effective response to the negative development. Climate policy building on different expectations for different countries, with extra responsibility for reducing emissions on the richest countries, hasn’t seemed to gain support in the US, where it has instead been seen by the current administration as over proportionate. In a recent White House press release, it was announced that the US is formally leaving the Paris Agreement. Short sighted government priorities remain an obstacle for reaching long sighted political action. We need institutions that can back up promises in order to protect the earth, and in order to accomplish that, we need voices to speak up and create public opinion.
Climate activist and author Naomi Klein quotes historian Howard Zinn:
“The really critical thing isn’t who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in the streets, in the cafeterias, in the halls of government, in the factories. Who is protesting, who is occupying offices and demonstrating. Those are the things that determine what happens.”
If we are to believe that what is critical is not who is in power, but who is making their voices heard, we can look to the recent global climate protests as demonstrated by Fridays for Future. In a time of growing inequality, our collective mobilisation could be the key to a future that ensures the survival of both the planet and humanity. We are living in a moment of transition, and it is high time to reflect on change. We know what has led to this transition, but we also know that different versions of the future are available. How much we limit the average temperature rise has drastic consequences for human life. In recognising the inequality of the causes and consequences of climate change, collective social action could stimulate a powerful change in the positive direction.
Illustration: Anna Dehlvin
Rebecka Bjuremalm is studying the bachelor program in Political Science, and is especially interested in human rights and sustainability. She is happiest when strolling around in art museums, drinks a lot of tea, and likes to think that she can speak French.