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The Impact of Climate Change on Populations in Poverty

“The planet's average surface temperature has risen about 1.62 degrees Fahrenheit (0.9 degrees Celsius) since the late 19th century” ("Climate Change: How Do We Know?"). To many, this clearly shows that our planet is going through a period of extreme global warming called climate change. People believe that this warming is mainly caused by something called the greenhouse effect. According to an article by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, this effect occurs when solar energy enters our atmosphere. Some of this energy is reflected back out into space by things like ice and snow, some is absorbed by the land and the ocean, and the rest is trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide and methane. Normally, this system benefits us by keeping our planet warm enough to sustain life, but recently, human activity has majorly increased the amount of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, causing too much heat to be trapped inside (“Greenhouse Effect”). Many people believe this has and will continue to result in many consequences, including sea level rise, drought, and an increase in natural disasters. Other people don’t see why just a few degrees increase is such a big deal and believe that climate change is fake. One of these people is recent president, Donald Trump. He believes that there hasn’t been any warming at all and he has made many tweets expressing this. Some examples are: “It's freezing and snowing in New York -- we need global warming!” and “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee - I'm in Los Angeles and it's freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” (@realDonaldTrump). Other critics of climate change believe that the Earth’s climate is always changing, so this period of warming is normal. Climate change and its effect on the world is a very controversial topic with many different views and opinions.

Some of the controversial views and opinions on this issue are completely inaccurate. Trump and many others don’t see the direct effects of this issue and consequently, don’t believe it is real or a danger to society. This is a problem, because these people, who are mainly wealthy or in the middle class, are the ones who are contributing to this issue the most. These are the people who generally tend to use the most electricity, have the largest carbon footprints, and produce the most waste. Alternatively, the one population that tends to contribute the least to climate change is affected the most. This population is people in poverty and of lower socioeconomic statuses. How has climate change impacted these people? Climate change has negatively impacted these people by destroying their agriculture, forcing them out of their homes, and preventing them from getting an education.

Destruction of Agriculture and Natural Resources

One way climate change impacts people in poverty is by destroying their agriculture and natural resources. “While everyone around the world feels the effects of climate change, the most vulnerable are people living in the world’s poorest countries — like Haiti and Timor-Leste — and the world’s 2.5 billion smallholder farmers, herders and fisheries who depend on the climate and natural resources for food and income” ("Quick Facts: How Climate Change Affects People Living in Poverty"). These poorer countries rely on these crops and natural resources not only for food, but also for money. All of these resources are currently being weakened and depleted by climate change, which leads to hunger crisis and a major loss of money for many people. In other words, “Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons, and natural disasters disproportionately threaten these populations, increasing their risk and their dependency on humanitarian aid” (“Quick Facts: How Climate Change Affects People Living in Poverty”). Climate change has an immense impact on these populations by decreasing their resources and altering their way of life. The fact that these people, who are the most vulnerable in the world, are facing the bulk of the effects is unjust, yet the rest of the world is doing little about it. People continue to drive around in their expensive gas cars, fly in their private jets, use large amounts of electricity, and produce excessive waste, all worsening the state of people in poverty. An article by Concern Worldwide highlights this stating that “In 2016, ongoing droughts in Malawi led to the country’s worst crop failure in a generation, leaving an estimated 4 million people in need of assistance. Now in 2019, ongoing torrential rains across southeast Africa affected more than 922,000 Malawians. These also devastate crops, as we have seen in Sierra Leone and Bangladesh” (Giovetti). These numbers reveal the immense impact climate change related events and disasters have on specific areas, while the rest of the world sits by and watches. Disasters, like the droughts and rains in Malawi, push people further into poverty, by taking away their jobs and decreasing their food supply, which increases the many hardships they have to endure. Overall, by decreasing their natural resources and destroying their agriculture, climate change deeply affects the lives of the impoverished.

Climate Refugees

Additionally, populations in poverty are affected by this crisis through climate-related disasters and storms that force people out of their homes and countries. "[One] 2015 study by the Institute for Environment and Human Security of the United Nations University estimates that by 2050, the world will have 200 million climate refugees driven out of cities in the Middle East and South Asia" (Giovetti). This is an extremely shocking number that really depicts the immense impact of this crisis. Our world is already faced with overpopulation and a lack of living space for people. This means as more and more people are forced to move, there will be less and less places to go to until there is nothing left. Not only do we face this issue, but also how these people, called climate migrants, are affected on an individual level. In one story “[a] farmer’s business suffered during a series of successive droughts. Unable to cope, the man and his sister fled Ethiopia but, like so many who have fled East Africa as a result of climate change, he was betrayed by his smugglers and never reached Europe. His sister died on the journey” (Giovetti). This is just one story out of millions of others about climate refugees. These people are forced to go through many hardships and struggles in order to escape the dangerous conditions they were experiencing. Wealthier people have the privilege of being able to move relatively easily from affected areas and can afford to buy a new house. The problem is that people in poverty, who are most affected by this, don’t have the financial stability or resources to move and therefore often have to resort to more dangerous options such as using smugglers. All in all, these people in impoverished areas are forced out of their homes due to climate related events, becoming climate migrants.

A Barrier to Education

Lastly, Climate change has impacted the lives of people in disadvantaged countries by preventing them from getting an education. “Many families will survive economic downturns brought on by decimated crops through negative coping mechanisms such as pulling their children out of school to save on fees and put their children to work to make up for the lost income. Severe weather can also destroy or damage classrooms… Climate change is a barrier to education around the world, threatening attendance as well as school stability and even access to hygiene facilities” (Giovetti). Climate change prevents these people in underprivileged areas from getting the education they need. This lack of education is extremely significant, because it “... doesn’t just impact an individual’s future; it also affects their communities: According to UNESCO, education’s effect on poverty means that 420 million lives could be improved if all adults completed a secondary education. The benefits of literacy alone would result in 171 million people breaking the cycle of extreme poverty” (Giovetti). By being prevented access to education these people are unable to get higher paying jobs therefore making it impossible for them to earn more money and break the cycle of poverty. This continues to worsen their lives, increasing their many hardships and struggles. In summary, climate change acts as a barrier to education, blocking it from people in poverty and deeply impacting their lives.

What can we do?

In conclusion, the immense impact climate has on communities in poverty, by destroying agriculture and resources, forcing people to leave their homes, and preventing people from getting an education, reveals to us that we need to take action. People in wealthier countries, like the US need to realize the major effect they have on the climate and take responsibility for their actions. One specific population should not have to face all the consequences of a worldwide problem. Solving this major issue would not just benefit this one group; it would help everyone, because as climate change worsens, people in poverty will continue to face the worst of the effects, but other populations in wealthier countries will also start to be impacted. So, how do we solve it? There are so many simple steps that can be taken to improve this issue and the lives of those in poverty. One’s carbon footprint can be decreased by walking or biking instead of driving, taking public transportation, and eating sustainably. Additionally, electricity usage can be reduced by using natural light during the daytime instead of artificial. Waste can be reduced by only consuming the things we need and not buying excessively. Lastly, participating in protests and asking for local and national government to take action is crucial in the fight against climate change. Not only do we need to address this crisis, we also need to ensure that the voices of these people are heard and listened to, and that they are being represented in the climate movement. Overall, we need to take action and stop the effects of climate change from negatively impacting our society, while also listening to the perspectives of those who are often underrepresented.



Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

"Climate Change: How Do We Know?" NASA Global Climate Change, edited by Holly

Shaftel, 27 Feb. 2020, Accessed 1 Mar. 2020.

Giovetti, Olivia. "How the Effects of Climate Change Keep People in Poverty."

Concern Worldwide, 25 Sept. 2019,

effects-of-climate-change-cycle-of-poverty/. Accessed 24 Feb. 2020.

"Greenhouse Effect." Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Water and the

Environment, science/greenhou

se-effect. Accessed 4 Mar. 2020.

"Quick Facts: How Climate Change Affects People Living in Poverty." Mercy Corps,

15 Nov. 2019. Mercy Corps,

Accessed 19 Feb. 2020.

@realDonaldTrump. “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee - I'm in Los Angeles and it's

freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!” Twitter, 6 Dec. 2013,

7:13 a.m.,

@realDonaldTrump. “It's freezing and snowing in New York -- we need global warming!”

Twitter, 7 Nov. 2012, 11:24 a.m.,

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