Climate Change: A Moral Obligation for the Developed World

This article originally appeared in The Guardian and is reprinted from Black Agenda Report.

What if dealing with climate change meant more than a flick of a switch? Would our friends in the industrialized world think differently if the effects of climate change were worse than extended summer months and the arrival of exotic species?

Cushioned and cosseted, they have had the luxury of closing their minds to the real impact of what is happening in the fragile and precious atmosphere that surrounds the planet we live on. Where climate change has occurred in the industrialized world, the effects have so far been relatively benign. With the exception of events such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the inhabitants of North America and Europe have felt just a gentle caress from the winds of change.

I wonder how much more anxious they might be if they depended on the cycle of Mother Nature to feed their families. How much greater would their concerns be if they lived in slums and townships, in mud houses, or shelters made of plastic bags? In large parts of sub-Saharan Africa, this is a reality. The poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh edge of climate change every day of their lives.

The melting of the snows on the peak of Kilimanjaro is a warning of the changes taking place in Africa. Across this beautiful but vulnerable continent, people are already feeling the change in the weather. But rain or drought, the result is the same: more hunger and more misery for millions of people living on the margins of global society.

Even in places such as Darfur, climate change has played a role. In the semi-arid zones of the world, there is fierce competition for access to grazing lands and watering holes. Where water is scarce and populations are growing, conflict will never be far behind.

In so many of the countries where the poorest live, governments are ill-equipped to cope. Katrina was a challenge for the U.S., so why should we be surprised that the annual cyclone season off the east coast of Africa continues to stretch the governments of Mozambique and Madagascar to their limits? Where governments are weak, the reliance on humanitarian agencies is greater.

People who work for bodies such as the UN World Food Program are finding their work is a humanitarian "growth industry." Indeed, the numbers of people who know what it's like to go hungry stands at more than 850 million, and they are still growing by almost 4 million a year. The increasing frequency of natural disasters makes the fight against hunger even more challenging. The World Bank estimates that the number of natural disasters has quadrupled from 100 a year in 1975 to 400 in 2005.

In the past 10 years, 2.6 billion people have suffered from natural disasters. That is more than a third of the global population -- most of them in the developing world. The human impact is obvious, but what is not so apparent is the extent to which climatic events can undo the developmental gains put in place over decades. Droughts and floods destroy lives, but theyalso destroy schools, economies and opportunity.

Every child will remember the story of the three little pigs and the big bad wolf. In the world we live in, the bad wolf of climate change has already ransacked the straw house and the house made of sticks, and the inhabitants of both are knocking on the door of the brick house where the people of the developed world live.

Our friends there should think about this the next time they reach for the thermostat switch. They should realize that while the problems of the Mozambican farmer might seem far away, it may not be long before their troubles wash up on their shores.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.