The impending crisis of global climate change represents a moral failure on our part to be stewards of the Earth and harbingers of justice.
Climate change impacts and poverty are intricately connected. Studies indicate that people in poverty around the world will be the least able to deal with the effects of climate change. Increased drought, flooding, and disease will only exasperate the already dire conditions of those living in poverty.
By 2080, 1.8 billion people could be living in a water-scarce environment. Up to 330 million people could be displaced by flooding and 220-400 million people could be exposed to malaria. By 2020, crop yields will likely decline by 50 percent in Africa, further exacerbating an already dire situation. With increased drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, the UN Development Program predicts up to 600 million more people will face malnutrition.
In Ethiopia and Kenya, two of the world’s most drought-prone countries, children age five and under are 36-50 percent more likely to be malnourished if they were born during a drought. In Ethiopia, an additional two million children were malnourished in 2005.
If rain-fed agriculture yields are reduced by 50 percent, 263 million people will be negatively affected. Seventy percent of Africa’s population depends on agriculture for their livelihood. Economists suggest that crop revenues could drop by 90 percent by the year 2100 as a result of climate change.
Global climate change will also be keenly felt by United States communities of color. For instance, asthma will increase and will disproportionately impact African Americans, who are nearly three times as likely to be hospitalized or killed by asthma than whites.
African Americans are also disproportionately impacted by deaths during heat waves and from worsened air pollution. Future heat waves will be most lethal in the inner cities of the northern half of the country, such as New York City, Detroit, Chicago, and Philadelphia, where many African American communities are located.
Unemployment and economic hardship associated with climate change will fall most heavily on the African American community. According to a report from the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, reducing emissions to 15 percent below 1990 levels would mitigate these adverse health effects of climate change, while concomitantly decreasing air pollution related mortality, saving an estimated 10,000 African American lives per year by 2020.
If we have a commitment to moral vision and justice, the reality of the growing global climate change crisis calls for us to respond with speed, justice, and proper stewardship.
This article was adapted from the National Council of Churches’ Climate and Church report. Carmichael is the eco-justice program director at the National Council of Churches.