Killer Climate Change

June 02, 2009

The effects of climate change are killing more than 300,000 people and contributing to about $125 billion in economic losses every year. This according to the Global Humanitarian Forum, a group lead by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Global warming is already striking the world’s most vulnerable populations. The study “found that human-influenced climate change — mainly by exacerbating flooding and drought — was elevating the global death rates from illnesses including malnutrition, diarrheal disease, malaria and heat-related ailments.” The findings of this report are already being debated although the actual report hasn’t been released yet. Even if the report’s methodology may according to some be flawed, there are many important take home messages: climate change is having an impact now, and the world’s poor are likely to suffer the most from a warmer world. Whereas the people living in developed countries will be able to cope with many of the impacts of climate change, the world’s poor will not have that luxury. Even marginal changes in temperature and rainfall, for example, can have profound consequences on people living below the poverty lines. These people don’t have the means to flee to higher ground when it floods, or sophisticated water pumps to keep their fields productive during droughts. Studies like the one done by the Global Humanitarian Forum raise great social justice issues inherent with combating climate change. Why should the least developed countries, the ones that have almost literally contributed the least to our atmospheric concentrations of CO2, bear the burden of climate change? I am realistic about how climate change will impact my life — I think that even in a warmer world I will survive and probably live happily. But we live in a globalized world where my life decisions can directly impact somebody on the other side of the world. Global warming is real, it is happening now, and we all must take responsibility for it.