Why the Biggest Debt We Owe Has Nothing to Do with Money
Continued from previous page
And so by the time the industrial revolution took hold, the United States joined Europe in forming what I’m going to refer to as the Global North. And these are regions that benefited from raw materials confiscated from the Global South. So the Global North are those nations that are largely in the Northern Hemisphere, and whose plunder of those nations in the Global South ensured its development, its industrialization and its wealth. The Global South, meanwhile, are those nations that are largely in the Southern Hemisphere, are often referred to today as “developing nations.”
The Global North holds about 15 percent of the world’s population—and 80 percent of the world’s wealth. And keep in mind that the industrial revolution allowed that accumulation of wealth to take place. The Global South, meanwhile, has about 85 percent of the world’s population—and 20 percent of the world’s wealth. Which is really no surprise, considering its raw materials were stripped with little to no compensation.
As a planet, we share one climate. We share one atmosphere. And the industrial revolution, which again, fueled this massive wealth in the Global North, took its toll on that climate, and on that atmosphere, through massive carbon emissions. We share this one planet—but we don’t benefit equally, and that difference is clearly marked between the Global North and the Global South.
And as is the case with precious metals, with lumber, with fertilizer, one group—the Global North—benefited at another’s cost—the Global South. And in terms of historical emissions, the Global North is responsible for nearly 70 percent of the CO2 build-up in the atmosphere between 1850 and 2004.
So let’s go over the numbers. The Global North holds about 15 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for the accumulation of about 70 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, which made possible the fact that it owns 80 percent of the world’s wealth. The Global South? It’s got about 85 percent of the world’s population, is responsible for about 30 percent of historical emissions, and holds just 20 percent of the world’s wealth. And you cannot begin to understand that massive accumulation of wealth without understanding that history behind it. The carbon emissions that got us to where we are today.
The Global North is starting to see the effects of climate change as a result of more than 150 years of CO2pollution. But, because it’s amassed so much wealth, it’s better poised to deal with the impacts.
I’m not going to stand up here and tell you that Hurricane Katrina wasn’t a complete disaster for New Orleans and surrounding communities—and for poor communities of color in particular. And I’m not going to pretend that there aren’t deep divisions within the Global North. As Crystal Lameman just poignantly pointed out, some Native communities here in the US live on reservations in conditions that most people wouldn’t even recognize. And it’s these communities internally here in the Global North that haven’t benefited from the way that the rest of the Global North has. And it’s corporations, meanwhile, that have benefited the most.
And if we think back to Hurricane Katrina, remember how it was described in news coverage as the “Third World.” And it’s always struck me. Because the idea is: This is something that happens somewhere else. And that somewhere else place, that’s the Global South. The people who are least responsible for carbon emissions are the ones who are then most impacted by climate change. So these frontline communities who have been divested of language, divested of land, divested of climate—and as a result, haven’t been able to accumulate wealth in order to deal with the repercussions of climate change. A climate change that they were not responsible for creating.