Posted by: r.m. | November 15, 2013

climate change: the greatest crime of environmental injustice

Environmental Justice – a term born out of the struggles in the United States (specifically, in NC) whose focus is on the fair distribution of environmental benefits and burdens.  In other words: he who pollutes be the one who gets the pollution.  All too often, it is the poor and vulnerable communities in the world that face the burden of environmental mismanagement – from pollution to landfills – while they are not the perpetrators.

Climate change is the most extreme form of environmental injustice our earth has known.  The Global North pollutes and transforms our atmosphere and creates this greatest experiment known as climate change.  The Global South faces the overwhelmingly burden of these horrors.

A report released this week documents the countries most at risk from climate weather events.

The report, launched this week in Warsaw at the UN climate talks, showed the Philippines rising dramatically up the global risk index list, supporting the government’s claims that typhoons are becoming stronger. Between 1992 and 2011, the Philippines ranked 14th, but over the past 13 years it has been the seventh worst-hit country behind Honduras, Myanmar, Haiti, Nicaragua, Bangladesh and Vietnam.

Germanwatch calculates that more than 530,000 people have died as a direct result of some 15,000 extreme weather events between 1993 and 2012. The thinktank said: “Eight of the 10 countries most affected by extreme weather between 1993-2012 were developing countries in the low-income or lower middle-income group, while only two were upper middle-income countries.

The report is available here:  Global Climate Risk 2014

We see it in The Philippines now.  Reports estimate more than 600,000 refugees.  An unknown number of people have killed – with numbers ranging from 4,000 to 10,000 killed.  (For pictures of before and after, go here)

While some may argue whether Typhoon Haiyoon is caused by climate change, scientists have told us clearly: climate change does cause storms to become stronger.

Anne Peterman, executive director of the Global Justice Ecology Project, which runs the climate-connections.orgblog, was quoted in the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA) on November 8 as saying:

“With Typhoon Hiayan ripping through the Philippines, we are once again staring climate catastrophe square in the face. This typhoon, with winds up to 230 mph is being called the strongest cyclone ever to make landfall. But it is likely just the beginning.

“The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this past September was once again clear in its warning that a warming globe means more unstable weather. The waters of the Pacific that fed this typhoon were unusually warm, lending tremendous energy to the storm.

“Typhoon Haiyan is ravaging the Philippines only a few days before the opening of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, Poland on Nov. 11, where once again it is predicted that no concrete action to limit climate change emissions will take place.

“But this storm should be a wake up call to the UN negotiators in Warsaw regarding the concrete impacts of their decades of inaction.

Typhoon Haiyan is once again demonstrating how countries in the Global South sit directly in the path of the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions historically put out by the Global North.”

It is not just storms ravaging our lands, but also harm to our oceans.

The rate at which the world’s oceans are acidifying is “unprecedented,” scientists warn in a new report.

Too much acid in the ocean is bad news for sea life. Acid eats away at calcium carbonite, the primary ingredient of shells and skeletons that many ocean animals depend on for survival. The rate may be faster than at any time in the last 300 million years, they say. The report, which will be launched Monday at the UN climate talks in Warsaw, is based on research presented by over 500 international experts on ocean acidification who convened at The Third Symposium on the Ocean in a High CO2 World in September 2012. According to their summary of findings, human-caused CO2 emissions have already caused a 26 percent-increase in ocean acidification since the start of the Industrial Revolution. If current rates of CO2 emissions continue, the report projects a 170 percent-increase in acidity levels by 2100.

The report states that “The most comparable event 55 million years ago was linked to mass extinctions of calcareous deep-sea organisms and significant changes to the surface ocean ecosystem. At that time, though the rate of change of ocean pH was rapid, it may have been 10 times slower than current change.”

With increased acidification, the scientists predict “far-reaching effects.” Ecologically and commercially valuable species like coral communities and mollusks are likely to suffer, and that will bring “cascading” effects, some of which are already noticeable.”

Pause. Let that sink in.

Now remember: as the conservative UNEP presented in a recent report, given how governments have been responding to the climate change crisis (i.e. with barely any response), the 2 degree C rise in temperature will be upon us.

So, as Daphne Wysham, a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies and director of the Genuine Progress Project, was quoted in yesterday’s press release by the IPA, who should pay?

“Just as the tobacco industry was eventually forced to pay for the health care costs of tobacco smokers, we need to get the fossil fuel industry to pay for the enormous humanitarian response in the aftermath of superstorms like Haiyan, which recently ripped across the Philippines killing thousands. We must move from a de facto policy of promoting voluntary individual donations and government assistance in the aftermath of superstorms — as though it is charity in response to an ‘act of God’ — to a policy of financial obligation by the perpetrators of this climate chaos: the oil, gas and coal industries. Government inaction on climate change, and continued support of the fossil fuel industry, has deadly consequences. Until the polluter pays and pays heavily, the cost of these consequences will only rise.”

But a larger question arises: there is much that can’t be compensated. How does one compensate for loss of species, loss of human life, loss of home? There is not enough money for that kind of compensation.

Still: there is – most definitely – enough money for assistance, for building adaptive mechanisms, for supporting community resilience.

Will it happen? Not likely. Not likely so long as we – the people of conscience – acquiesce to our feelings of fatalism. Not likely so long as we look for bandages to this crisis when what is needed a revolution. An economic revolution, in which we set aside this nonsense about continual economic growth and constant “wants” and build an economy that serves our needs, an economy built on equity and justice, an economy that recognizes – as its foundation – the finite gifts from the environment. A political revolution, in which the minority do not rule the lives of the majority but rather the major decisions are taken by the majority directly.  A spiritual revolution – where we, as individuals and communities, feel we have ‘enough things’ and realize that what is missing is enough love.

A revolution.

And there are pockets of that revolution already.

No matter how much the leaders in the US want to impose ignorance, there is growing awareness of the truth. Example: Though their representatives in Congress continue to deny it, majority of Conservative voters have no doubt that warming planet is causing significant changes

The environment tells us again and again that we are all connected.  We are all connected. Interdependent. What harms one of us, harms us all. There is no “there” and “here” — it is all “here.” There are so many studies that attest to this simple truth.

And here is one more study.

The total deforestation of the Amazon may reduce rain and snowfall in the western US, resulting in water and food shortages, and a greater risk of forest fires.

Princeton University-led researchers report that an Amazon stripped bare could mean 20% less rain for the coastal Northwest and a 50% reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a crucial source of water for cities and farms in California.

Deforestation across the Amazon rainforest has increased by more than a third over the past year. Research has shown that climate change, especially a spike in the global temperature, could wipe out as much as 85% of the forest. Deforestation and other key environmental issues will be under the spotlight this week as the United Nations Climate Change Conference negotiations taking place in Warsaw, Poland.”

And what can we expect from this next UN Climate Change Conference? Likely, more hot air. Politicians have rarely, if ever, led people towards justice. It is people who lead the path to justice and politicians who follow.  We have to lead.



  1. I love what Daphne Wysham said about holding the fossil fuel industry accountable!. But I find it hard to believe that this new conference will accomplish anything, especially when there’s drilling in Greenland, and after Russia detained the Arctic 30 for protesting the Russian drilling in the arctic! Instead of spending time discussing what we need to do, we should actually do something (even the majority of republicans agree!). What we need are more scientists, not politicians.

  2. Marianne Bersaoui biol207
    We are facing a series of well-knitted, chained, enviromental dilemmas, causing the dereglement of natural Earth beauty. People are dwelling not only with Earth’s beauty, but with matters and forces way too powerful for them to control. They are altering the progression of our lives in the space-time continuum. They are changing destinies. Climate change, one of the biggest ecological problems we are confronting, is the most dangerous among all. And if we don’t decrease CO2 emisson and our use of CFC products and other factors contributing, we are annihilating the traces, inventions, progressions, and wasting every drop of sweat and hard work shed from the dawn of the human civilization.

  3. “It is people who lead the path to justice and politicians who follow. We have to lead.” The article reminds us that we can’t just sit and await for the disastrous effects resulting from the greed of certain people. Yes, we should not except something more from UN climate meetings except “more air”. I liked when the article explained how volunteering help towards such a huge problem is like putting a bandage rather than solving the problem. To heal, we need a revolution and nothing but a revolution.

  4. […] to have been surprised by the report – I would have loved to read that the IPCC is demanding environmental justice, protection for the environmental refugees (already here and millions to come), and a new economy. […]

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