Earth Day Network explains the link between climate change and extreme poverty.
Climate change affects everyone but the majority of adverse effects are experienced by poor people around the world. Those living in poverty have a higher chance of experiencing the ill-effects climate change, and experience them more dramatically due to increased exposure and vulnerability. Poor people are less able to cope with adverse effects of climate change. According to the United Nations Development Program, developing countries suffer 99% of the casualties attributable to climate change. At the same time, the least 50 developed countries of the world account for a tiny, imbalanced, 1% contribution to the worldwide emissions of greenhouse gasses that create global warming.
Already, we are seeing crop withering heat waves, water shortages as aquifers dry up, insect and pest invasions, grain shortages, and rising food costs. Food shortages, malnutrition and starvation will increase, as food prices soar. As already poverty-stricken people lose what little economic stability they have and are unable to subsist, villages are abandoned and previously settled people become refugees. Massive increases in refugees lead to failing states and further create an unstable world of poverty, war and potential destruction of human civilization. Meanwhile, population continues to grow. Poverty reduces the chances that a woman will have birth control, increases the size of families and further stresses the environment and our insufficient resources. And thus the cycle continues.
The cycle of poverty, in turn, exacerbates the potential negative impacts of climate change. Poor families become trapped in poverty when they have limited or no access to resources, and no way to break the cycle. While in rich countries, coping with climate change means adjusting thermostats, for those in poverty, weather-related disasters, and a bad harvest can provide crippling economic shocks. Widespread famine, drought, and instability can affect an entire nation or continent. High levels of poverty and low levels of human development limit capacity of poor households to manage climate risks.
Climate change is stressing the natural balance of our environment to the breaking point, threatening our future. As Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute wrote in his book World on The Edge, "The threats to our future now are not armed aggression but rather climate change, population growth, water shortages, poverty, rising food prices, and failing states. Our challenge is not only to redefine security in conceptual terms, but also to reallocate fiscal priorities to shift resources toward . . . reforestation, soil conservation, fishery restoration, universal primary school education, and reproductive health care and family planning services for women everywhere.
"Although these goals are conceptually simple and easily understood, they will not be easily achieved. They will require an enormous effort from each of us. The vested interests of the fossil fuel and defense industries in maintaining the status quo are strong.
". . . But there is hope: Stabilizing population, eradicating poverty, and restoring the economy’s natural support systems would cost less than $200 billion of additional expenditures a year—a mere one eighth of current world military spending."