Friday, April 27 , 2018, 1:20 am | Fair 50º


Letter to the Editor: Climate Change Affects the Poor the Most


" ... and you can help them anytime you want." (Mark 14:7)

It has been evident for some time that the destructive effects of climate change strike first, and hardest, at the poor.

The wealthy, who in the long run cannot escape the loss of animal/plant food sources caused by escalating planet temperatures, will nevertheless last longer, having the wherewithal to buy food and drink (eventually on black markets) that have become too expensive for others, and will have resources others lack to move northward as intolerable temperatures, barren landscapes, flooded lowlands, mosquito-born diseases take the toll that has been predicted for so long.

Watching a recent documentary on the struggles of Bangladesh people to deal with rising seas that increasingly take their land; seeing them build huts standing above water on stilts; watching their representative appeal without success to international organizations for money to build live-in boats and floating community centers, - all this helps bring the reality into sharp focus.

Add to this newspaper accounts which repeatedly reveal that oil/gas drillling rigs, producing a primary cause of greenhouse emissions, are often permitted in municipalities' poorest neighborhoods absent the stricter guidelines and protections required of drillers in more well-to-do locations.

"L.A. is sued over oil drilling sites. ... The plaintiffs, who include children and teens living near drilling sites in South Los Angeles and Wllmington, ... assert that the city has left predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods more vulnerable to health and safety risks tied to oil drilling  than mostly white areas. Much more stringent conditions, including taller walls, better sound protection and less polluting equipment, were imposed on drilling sites in West Los Angeles and the Wilshire area ... [practices that are] systematically violating the California Environmental Quality Act ..." (Los Angeles Times, November 7, 2015)

We in California have long known that massive spread of fracking in our state was initiated by Governor Brown when he fired Dep't. of Conservation Director Derek Chernow who had declined to violate environmental law by issuing drilling permits absent the degree of scrutiny required by the Environmental Protection Agency. (LA Times, Jan. 12, 2012) And we've known for years that the proliferation in California of unconventional drilling sites close to schools, communities, farms and orchards has brought widespread health damage to the state's working class families.

It's heartening to learn that a major international organization has recently issued a plea for us to address climate change and poverty "in tandem."

A recent report from The World Bank states:

"The world must pair efforts to stabilise climate change with programmes to eliminate poverty if vulnerable people are to be kept from falling back into hardship as rising temperatures wreak havoc on food security and livelihoods ... 

"Climate change has led to crop failures, natural disasters, higher food prices and the spread of waterborne diseases, creating poverty and pushing people at risk into destitution  

"As many as 100 million people could slide into extreme poverty because of rising temperatures, which are caused by greenhouse gas emissions .... The most recent estimate from the World Bank puts the number of people living in extreme poverty this year at 702 million, or 9.6% of the world’s population.Without proper planning, efforts to stabilise the impacts of climate change can undo decades of progress in lifting vulnerable people out of poverty .... Environmental taxes, designed to reduce emissions, can raise the cost of fuel and food, which hit poor people hardest." 

"Poor people need social safety nets and universal healthcare to sustainably eradicate poverty, ...  Programmes to lessen the impacts of climate change should not create new vulnerabilities and they should inform development policies by taking into account future climate conditions .'When we [build] infrastructure, for instance, [we need] to make sure it’s in a safe place today but also in a safe place with sea level rise and the change in rainfall and so on,' said [senior World Bank economist Stephane] Hallegatte.

In a matter of days, the world's nations will meet in Paris to decide what effective measures, if any, they will take to deal with this universal threat.

I expect to see more earnest effort to reach that goal than has previously been the case, but I am skeptical, history being my guide, that any measures they adopt, or promise, will have appreciable effect on the fate of this Earth. 

We have recently exceeded 1 degree Centigrade average temperature rise, with no indication of substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. The bell has rung. The two-minute warning has sounded. And sufficient attention has not been paid.

But if the world's governments and the world's industries do in fact join in enlightened cooperation of unprecedented speed and scale, perhaps the planet's warming will halt short of the unstoppable and irreversible rise now underway.

If they do not, I expect to live long enough to see the beginning of an end.

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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