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10 reasons you need to care about climate change – regardless of your politics
Moving into the New Year, the global climate is in a state of disarray and uncertainty. 2015 looks to be the hottest year on record by a considerable margin, followed by 2014, with all of the top ten occurring post-1998. A powerful El Niño is already contributing to fierce droughts in southern and eastern Africa, while the UK and the Midwestern United States are submerged by extreme floods. On Christmas Eve, Central Park in New York City reached a high temperature of 72 degrees. Climate change is here.
A powerful piece of positive news snuck in just before the end of 2015, however; the Paris Agreement at COP21 in December marked a significant shift in momentum towards inclusive and comprehensive action to curb global climate change. With nearly 200 countries participating – and driven by citizen-fueled movements around the world pushing for solutions – the steps taken in Paris offer real hope that world leaders may finally be taking climate change seriously.
Despite all of this, climate change still feels like a mythical, distant and intangible ‘thing’ for many of us; it feels so big that we can’t personally help to fix it. Others of us might feel that the issue is just too politically divided to motivate action across the aisle. Here are ten reasons why climate change is, in fact, very, very real – no matter what your politics may be – and that you are the most important part of the solution.
##1. The world’s poorest are suffering – right now. Climate change disproportionately affects the most vulnerable people around the world – small subsistence farmers earning a dollar or two per day, dependent on the weather to eke out a living. In a twisted turn of fate, the parts of the world feeling the strongest effects of climate change and forecast to bear the brunt of future climate extremes are areas with the fewest resources available to prepare themselves for what is coming. Communities around the world are already feeling the strain of changing weather patterns. For example, in much of southern Africa, temperature increases, delayed and erratic rains, as well as droughts are causing hunger and limiting the ability of farmers to educate their children and afford basic medical care. The worst drought in 50 years is ongoing in Ethiopia, where young girls are being forced into marriage early because their families so desperately need the money that comes from a marriage dowry.
##2. Our values compel us to help. We live in a global community, linked more tightly and comprehensively than ever before. Because of modern communication technology, we can no longer feign ignorance when our neighbors starve or are forced to desperate measures to ensure the survival of their families. Organized religions all agree on the essential human imperative to lend a hand to people in dire straits. Even secular people live by a genuine moral code, which certainly does not condone standing idle while millions of fellow human beings face the threat of starvation. Climate change is creating conditions of utmost economic, social and physical distress, and our values will drive us to help.
##3. Less obvious consequences of climate change are numerous and frightening. Climate change doesn’t just mean strange weather and struggling farmers – the effects are far reaching. Heat waves, increased risk of tropical diseases, and severe weather events such as tornadoes and tsunamis all have negative impacts on human health. Damage to property and financial assets will worsen and become more common (remember how hard hurricane Sandy hit New York and New Jersey?). The ripple effects of climate change’s impact on food production and food prices can cause political unrest and destabilize commodity markets, which we observed in 2008-2009, contributing to the revolutions of the Arab Spring.
##4. If compassion isn’t your thing… try enlightened self-interest. At both personal and national levels, the suffering and unrest levied by climate change is bad news. Political disruptions, crop failures, and systemic economic upheaval are all possibilities – which will affect your wallet and possibly the security of your nation. Further, climate change threatens some of the world’s true marvels, such as the Great Barrier Reef, which you may wish to personally enjoy. Even if you’re just looking out for number one, it’s in your best interest to prevent the worst effects of climate change now and in the future.
##5. Whether humans are causing climate change doesn’t matter. Some people disagree with the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by human activities. Even if you are uncomfortable with the idea that humans are causing it, climate change is undeniably affecting people around the world already, and we cannot afford to delay utilizing every tool we have to prepare ourselves for what is ahead of us – regardless of the cause. Ultimately we need to address the fact that human emissions are exacerbating the greenhouse effect, but this debate is not an excuse to delay action to protect the world’s most vulnerable citizens from what they are already facing.
##6. Morals, self-interest and achievability all tell us to pitch in - making the politics irrelevant. Conservatives and liberals may not have much to cooperate on these days, but most would readily agree that people should not be forced to starve or lose their livelihoods when achievable, implementable solutions exist. This is especially the case when helping our neighbor also helps ourselves – by lending a hand to countries struggling with climate change, we also protect ourselves from political and economic instability and develop solutions that we may soon need in our own fields and cities back home.
##7. The communities being affected are motivated to solve their own problems. We don’t need to solve others’ problems for them. The smallholder farmers, healthcare workers, and entrepreneurs in developing (and developed) countries who are waging war on the front lines of climate change are intelligent, motivated and innovative people; there are strong and resourceful local leaders working tirelessly every day to deploy solutions. These leaders are the most qualified and best equipped to solve the context-specific problems that plague their communities – not prescriptive development projects or heavy-handed government programs. However, these community leaders desperately need the support of development agencies, governments and the local and global public to get the resources and training they need to be successful.
##8. The problems of climate change are fixable. Many organizations, governments, citizens, leaders and activists are working furiously to develop the tools we need to respond to the climate problem. Most of these tools already exist. Agricultural practices, new technologies, community organization and empowerment, and access to credit are all importance pieces to the puzzle. The missing piece is the global awareness and public commitment to work together and solve the problem. This is different than solving the energy crisis by investing in a hail-mary such as nuclear fusion. We have the tools that we need right now.
##9. Everyone has a role to play. Everybody can contribute in their own way to counter the most disastrous effects of climate change. Governments and international bodies need to encourage local agency, community-led development, empowerment, gender parity and institution-building. Companies large and small need to recognize that climate change affects their businesses, and take steps to increase the resilience of their operations and those of their business partners. Local farmers need to continue to take control of their own destinies in the fight against climate change. Individual citizens need to talk to their neighbors, families and legislators, and join the growing movement for real solutions. All sectors need to immediately act to reduce emissions, aided by a reliable and entrepreneurial policy environment. The prerequisite for all of these steps is for people around the world to demand that their governments, as well as businesses and institutions they engage with, recognize and work to fix the problem.
##10. No matter who you are, you can help. You are the most important part of the solution. Talk to your employer about how your business and business partners can be more resilient against climate change, especially if you work with vulnerable or disenfranchised communities (such as farmworkers). Talk to your friends about the realities that our global neighbors are facing, and call your representative to tell them that climate change and the possibility of people facing starvation matter to you. Have a conversation with your crazy left-wing aunt or wild right-wing uncle about how climate change isn’t actually a political issue – it’s a moral one. Volunteer your expertise to a local or international organization that is fighting to help others – whether you’re an accountant, a barista, or fitness coach, you have a unique set of skills that can be helpful. Or, contribute financially to a charity or professional organization that is fighting tooth and nail to provide key resources and training to farmers and community leaders on the front lines of the climate fight.
If you get involved, you can help tip the balance from apathy and failure, to active and passionate success. Your involvement – yes, you – is the key to a world without hunger and with equal opportunity for all.