Poor Thinking

Apparently, ‘climate change will be worse for the poor’. Who’d have thunk it? We really don’t need the IPCC WGII report to tell us that – things are always worse for the poor. And yet the report seems to have taken many by surprise.

Stranger still is how this rather obvious notion is being used by greens as a call for climate change mitigation.

If poverty and wealth are the factors which determine our immunity to the effects of climate change, then it seems obvious that the solution, rather than changing the climate, is to change people’s circumstances.

But environmentalists and NGOs favour ‘sustainability’ and empty, feel-good gestures such as Fair Trade over development. And political parties of all persuasions are locked in an arms race of climate-mitigation policy-making. The result is that changing the circumstances of the poor is not a serious option.

Anyway, there is good reason to believe that, despite what they say, environmentalists have little real interest in the plight of the world’s poor. According to Mark Lynas, a high-profile UK environmentalist, and one of National Geographic’s celebrated ‘New Explorers‘, ‘The struggle for equity within the human species must take second place to the struggle for the survival of an intact and functioning biosphere‘.

Of those that maintain that that alleviating poverty remains a primary concern, ‘climate instability’ serves as a convenient peg on which to hang other neuroses. So, the idea that climate change will be worse for the poor is now being used, by the UK government and others, to exploit our fears of political instability and threats to the security of the West. (In this respect, the vulnerability of the world’s poor is being used as a reason to be suspicious of them rather than as a call to improve their lot.)

All such attempts to use the poor to lend moral weight to climate mitigation policies are bankrupt. Poverty necessarily involves a close, dependent relationship with Mother Nature and a vulnerability to her every whim – one’s ability to shape one’s own future is diminished by the necessity of merely surviving in the present. In contrast, development buffers people against the elements. And yet that security is precisely what the environmental movement, in pushing mitigation over adaptation, seems intent on denying people. Justifying the push for mitigation using the story of the poor’s battle with the elements won’t help them, but it might well prove a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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