Inequality on the Impact of Climate Change


Everywhere we turn, the issues and impacts of climate change confront us. One of the most serious environmental threats facing the world today, climate change has moved from the minds of scientists and offices of environmentalists to the mainstream. Though the media is dominated by images of polar bears, melting glaciers, flooded lands, and arid desserts, there is a human face to this story as well. Climate change is not only an issue of the environment; it is also an issue of justice and human rights, one that intersects race and class. All over the world people of color, Indigenous Peoples and low-income communities bear disproportionate burdens from climate change itself, from ill-designed policies to prevent it, and from side effects of the energy systems that cause it.

According to many studies conducted by different environmental organizations around the world, there is a fairly direct relationship between income level of various classes of people and the amount of harmful carbon emissions they produced. The higher the income of a family, the more likely it is to produce a significant amount of carbon gasses. And since poorer classes of people are disproportionately concentrated at the lower end of the socio-economic scale, on the average they are producing less of the harmful carbon emissions.

In the global scale, a major roadblock to establishing international standards is the fact that world leaders don’t yet have a clear answer to the question of fairness, that is, the question of “how much should participating countries ask of developing countries as they attempt to deal with global warming?” The simple fact on the global stage is simply that developing countries, regardless of their level of development, are considerably less responsible for the volume of harmful carbon emissions than the large industrialized nations.

If developed industrialized countries are disproportionately responsible for the level of harmful carbon emissions, is it fair to ask poor developing countries, and those disenfranchised minorities around the world to curb their activity on a level similar to rich developed countries?