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The vicious cycle of inequality and climate change

The earth is getting warmer. Whether you believe that this is merely a natural process or the effect of human actions; it is a fact that this increase in temperature is meddling with our weather. As a result, natural disasters have been steadily increasing both in number and strength over the past years. This is the result of the renown “greenhouse effect” in which increased levels of CO2, trap too much of the sun’s heat inside the atmosphere, warming up the planet at an alarming rate. Studies have established that developed economies which make up about 15% of the total world population, constitute for about 45% of greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest 37% creates only about 7%. This means that there is an extreme disproportion on the origin of this issue, but a bigger problem is the fact that, there’s also a significant imbalance regarding the ones who bear the greater costs of climate change. Spoiler alert: it’s not the rich and wealthy.

The relation between inequality and climate change has been described as a “vicious cycle.” This is because inequality is the reason behind the disproportionate impact of natural disasters on these groups, which by itself increases the hardships faced by underprivileged communities. Widening the gap between the rich and the poor even more, in both the local and international scope.

The local impacts that climate change has on the wealth gap between members of the same community is quite straightforward. People with reduced resources are more susceptible to natural disasters. This is because they often live in areas with outdated infrastructure, which are less resistant to the current severe weather conditions. For instance, the house of a high-income family is more likely to be made out of brick and concrete rather than some other weak materials, which makes it less likely to be completely washed away in the event of a flood, and allows the wealthy to undergo less damage during any given hazard. On top of this, disadvantaged groups are also less likely to be able to afford insurance, which means that often, they have to cover the complete costs of their material loses in such event. Making the recovering process that follows a natural disaster even harder. This circumstance could be easily appreciated after hurricane Mitch in Honduras where those living in poverty endured thrice as much loss in their assets than other parts of the population.

On the other hand, if we move on to the international aspects of this phenomenon then, it has been stated that developing countries will be more severely hit by climate change because their economies are more likely to depend on agriculture and farming. However, it has even been argued that agricultural yield could rise in rich temperate countries as some of their winters become less deadly. Meaning that there will be an uneven distribution of losses within regions, and the harshest effects are expected to occur in low-income countries. Some have pointed towards migration as a viable solution to this issue, but wealthy nations are not known for having open borders when it comes to impoverished migrants. And in addition, researchers have also concluded that this opportunity is mostly available for middle-income countries given the high cost of moving.

The effects of climate change are very much uncertain. But from the events that we have already witnessed on the past few years such as hurricane Irma and South Africa’s drought, it can be easily stated that their price tag won’t be small. Therefore, prevention measures and safety nets are to make sure that, in the future, as floods become more frequent, and droughts become more intense; the poor won’t become even more vulnerable — especially if they are the least responsible for these events.


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