Are we responsible for the effects of climate change?

‘Climate change’ has recently become a household term in the global north, but very few people stop to actually think about what causes it and the effects it really has. There has been much debate over the extent to which human activity has exacerbated the effects of climate change and the rate at which it is occurring. The effects of climate change are broad and dynamic, and have already started being visible throughout the world. If any of these issues are caused or even just partially heightened by human activity, then this brings the issue of environmental justice to the table. How is it fair that the selfish actions of human beings in one area of the world negatively affect the lives of innocent people living in another?

Take, for instance, the northern hemisphere heat wave in summer 2010. Temperatures were at an outstanding high, which impacted the environment and the societies within it on a number of scales. In Russia, the heat wave of 2010 was the worst in 1,000 years of recorded history and had a “substantial impact on that year’s wheat harvest, leading to economic losses of more than $15bn”. Although this happened in 2010, there has since been much discussion over whether it was a result of anthropogenic climate change or simply a natural occurrence. In a recent article from the guardian, however, it has been claimed that this specific heat wave was “made three times more likely because of man-made climate change”.  This means that the greenhouse gas producing behaviour of people (generally in the global north) significantly increased the chance of this phenomenon, which in turn destroyed people’s livelihoods and incomes. The injustice here lies in the fact that individual families who are reliant on certain sources of revenue are suffering because of a problem that their country has a whole managed to ignorantly create. What is even worse than this is when countries who have played a very minimal role in the contribution to climate change are the ones who are suffering the most as a whole.

Developing countries are arguably the ones affected the most by anthropogenic climate change but also the ones who have contributed to it the least. Most greenhouse gases which are released spread out into the whole atmosphere, thus having an effect on more countries than just the one which emitted them. This creates an unjust system whereby the globe as a whole is paying for the mistakes of a few selfish countries.
A high percentage of developing countries depend heavily upon revenue from agricultural work and it has been said that “a further increase in temperatures will make many agricultural areas less productive—and some completely unsuitable for farming”. So when the populations of those countries are stuck in the middle of a threatening heat wave, where the majority of their crops are ruined, how are they expected to earn a living to allow them to grow economically? Developing countries are struggling to gain a stronger place in the global market as it is, so the threat of climate change affecting their main source of income is a serious one. The most shameful part of this story is that developed countries are continuing to behave in an environmentally destructive way, despite knowing the affect it has on other countries, families and individuals in the world. It is true that not all climate change is caused by human activity as much of it is actually natural. But when there are suggestions to say that our behaviour can increase or decrease the risk of it significantly, I encourage you to help to try and stop this injustice. Think of those families in developing countries who are struggling to yield a crop whilst you casually disregard ‘climate change’ as an ‘out-there’ concept with little real meaning or value.

Picture – http://severe-wx.pbworks.com/w/page/15957981/Droughts%20and%20Heat%20Waves. Last accessed 24th February 2012.

Jha, A. (2012) Climate Change increased likelihood of Russian 2010 heatwave – study. Available:http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2012/feb/21/climate-change-russian-heatwave. Last accessed 23rd February 2012.

McElroy, D. (2010) Russian heatwave kills 5,000 as fires rage out of control. Available:http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/russia/7931206/Russian-heatwave-kills-5000-as-fires-rage-out-of-control.html. Last accessed 23rd February 2012.

Mendelsohn, R and Dinar, A., (1999) Climate Change, Agriculture, and Developing Countries: Does Adaptation Matter? World Bank Res Obs 14(2): 277-293

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