Focus – Who Suffers from Climate Change

Supertyphoon Yolanda (Haiyan) struck the Philippines in November 2013, with winds near 195 mph, making it the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in recorded world history, causing between 6,000 and 15,000 deaths. I was privileged to join Philippines Climate Commissioner, Yeb Saño, on a pilgrimage the following year which lasted 40 days and covered 1,000 kilometers from Manila to Tacloban, arriving on the anniversary that Yolanda made landfall. It was called a People’s Walk for Climate Justice. There I witnessed a country visited by an average of eight or nine tropical cyclones each year; people living in desperate poverty, expecting these storms would persist and increase in strength. Like all other low-lying Pacific islanders, they are on the forefront of climate change and sea level rise. As others around the world, they are suffering the onslaught of extreme weather conditions which they have no responsibility for causing. Their appeal is to the rich world, those who have brought about these conditions because of lifestyles made possible by fossil fuel energy over two centuries, to take action.

A 2015 British Oxfam report says the richest 10% of people produce 50% of Earth’s climate-harming fossil-fuel emissions, and its analysis helps dispel the myth that citizens in rapidly developing countries are somehow most to blame for climate change. Super typhoon Mangkhut, the world’s strongest storm this year, caused at least 88 deaths in the Philippines last month and was the 15th storm this year to batter the Philippines. More than four million people were directly in its path with winds of 200 km/h and gusts up to 330km/h in one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries.

Even a comparatively simpler effort in the USA to relocate a community of fewer than 100 people in Louisiana, whose island home has lost 98% of its land to sea level rise since the 1950s, to a new town 40 miles inland, has taken several years and cost $50 million and still faces setbacks, including complaints from the predominantly Native American residents that the state government didn’t adequately involve them in the planning process. “The reality is there are tens of millions of these people, and we don’t agree on what we can do about them’ said Erol Yayboke, development expert at the CSIS (Center for Strategic and International Studies). According to the CSIS report, up to 70% of the five million people living in Bangladesh’s Dhaka’s slums were displaced from their original home by environmental disasters. (source) A recently released report by the Environmental Justice Foundation says rises in sea levels caused by climate change could result in Bangladesh losing more than 10% of its land area by mid-century, resulting in the displacement of 15 million people. The country is already experiencing some of the fastest-recorded sea level rises in the world. (source)

Indigenous people’s at risk working for justice. Indigenous people across the planet are fighting for justice and against corporate greed. It means putting their lives on the line – very different from protesters in the developed world fighting pipelines for example.  Global Witness said it had documented 207 cases in 2017 where activists were killed while trying to protect land from development, often for the production of consumer staples such as coffee and palm oil, making last year the deadliest year on record for environmentalists. Global demand for these products is increasing, with a scramble by business actors to get the massive amount of land they need to grow these products. When people dare to stand up for their rights and demand that the environment be protected they are silenced in the most brutal way. Global Witness said it had found evidence that government actors, soldiers or police, were responsible for 53 of the deaths. It links the violence to what we put on our shelves: mass-scale agriculture, mining, logging and poaching all produce ingredients for everyday products such as palm oil for cosmetics, soy for beef and timber for furniture. (source)

What’s happening in Guatemala today is just another example of the injustice. (How Guatemala is sliding into chaos in the fight for land and water.) A Dublin-based Front Line Defenders member said: “People feel abandoned. No one is listening to them. They have no confidence in the justice system. Their leaders are being victimised and attacked, their voices silenced.” The director of International Land Coalition said, “At the base of the violence against defenders is the decision by the state to use land, water and natural resources not for the benefit of the many but the very few. Anyone who opposes mines, evictions, palm oil plantations or who even takes part in round-tables to find solutions to the rising tide of violence against land rights defenders is likely to be targeted.”

Women more vulnerable. According to a UN Population Fund report, women and girls are also more vulnerable to storms, floods and cyclones and are 14 times more likely to die than men during natural disasters. In rural areas in many developing countries, it’s women’s duty to collect water. Data shows the combined hours of all women in sub-Saharan Africa fetching water is 16 million hours. Men, in comparison, spend 6 million hours on water collection. (source)

Mayer Hillman, an 86 year-old social scientists, is amazed that our thinking rarely stretches beyond 2100. “This is what I find so extraordinary when scientists warn that the temperature could rise to 5C or 8C. What, and stop there? What legacies are we leaving for future generations? In the early 21st century, we did as good as nothing in response to climate change. Our children and grandchildren are going to be extraordinarily critical.” He asks if civilisation can prolong its life until the end of this century, concluding; “It depends on what we are prepared to do. It’s almost as if we’re deliberately attempting to defy nature. We’re doing the reverse of what we should be doing, with everybody’s silent acquiescence, and nobody’s batting an eyelid.” (source) How the rich world has so far responded, then, saddens me greatly because we purport to care; we create annual gatherings to solve the problem, and flood monies into aid and rescue, yet have failed to make “justice” the prime motive, and now we are quickly beginning to see the results of apathy, arrogance and avarice: these are the three ‘A’s of which Saño often talks. The pain is happening today – it’s no longer a future prediction or hypothetical, a problem to be solved by 20250 or whenever – today refugees flee war, drought and floods

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