It’s the age old saying, ‘The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer’. In historic times, this was a saying used in reference to economic and financial wealth, those who had mansions comparative to those who lived on the streets, those who had food, to those with empty tummies. It’s a slogan still meaningful today, but can now be applied and extended beyond basic finances, to include climate change.

Recent studies have found that support for environmental protection increases with wealth. This statistic is at risk of being misinterpreted; that wealthier countries are more concerned about climate change, and are doing more to protect the environment, than their poorer counterparts. Ability to implement environmentally protective action should not be considered indicative of concern about climate change. In truth, poorer nations are just as involved in the matter of environmental protection, if not more so than wealthier nations, with a changing climate threatening their lives and livelihood on a daily basis. As if to support this, a 2013 paper authored by A.Franzen and D.Vogl reported that an increase in GDP ensued a decrease in concern of environmental risk. As wealthier countries are more able to take action against climate change, they are generally better adapted to extreme climatic events, and as such, can consider climate change a somewhat manageable risk. Comparatively, poor countries with few resources and less financial capability are more vulnerable to climate change and have a lower adaptive capacity to climatic events – climate change for the poor is a considerably more threatening influence than for the rich.

This is problematic for the climate change mitigation movement, as traditionally; wealthier, developed countries direct the policy and decision-making on international matters. If the wealthy countries adopt a sense of collective security around climate change management, they are less likely to be motivated to address climate change as an issue, and more likely to underestimate the level of risk in ignoring the issue. Already there is global inequality in the emission of green house gases by a country, and the vulnerability to the impacts of climate change that country experiences. Recent studies have found that 20 of the 36 highest emitting countries are among the least vulnerable to climate change. Said countries have been termed ‘free riders’; nations that are producing enormous amounts of greenhouse gases, but are experiencing very little of the consequences. For example, China, India and the United States were earmarked as the greatest greenhouse gas contributors, but have received little of the climate change burden to date. Such a finding is heartbreaking in the context of Trump’s recent decision to pull America out of the Paris Agreement; a global treaty to reduce carbon emissions in an effort to address climate change. It is unfair to those currently on the receiving end of climate change, that a nation will not pull its weight on a issue that it is one of the greatest contributors to. Furthermore, this same nation is likely to become a victim of climate change if it continues a policy of ignorance and denial.

Speaking of denial, Trump’s stance on climate change and global warming has reignited the sceptic argument. An argument almost completely flawed in its composition that humans are not to blame for the acceleration of climate change and that the current state of climate change is a natural occurrence of no concern. Through utter ignorance, and refusal to accept the more informed judgement of 97% of scientists, Trump continues to propagate the climate denial movement, convincing millions of the legitimacy of ‘junk’ science. It is unfortunate that this disbelief in climate change (specifically anthropogenically induced climate change) is holding up proceedings in actually dealing with the issue. Time, crucial to action, is slipping through our fingers are the circular climate change argument continues.

It is difficult to see where the doubt about climate change originates – admittedly miscommunication and misinformation cultivated by big media plays a role, as does widespread airing of ignorant political speeches. However, when we see such large scale and frequent devastation, as evident through natural disaster events, or the flooding of island communities from rising sea levels, how can we still question the existence of climate change? 2013 saw three times more people lose their homes to natural disaster than war, displacing approximately 22 million people. By 2030 it is estimated that more than 100 million people will be pushed into poverty by climate change. The coastal and island nations will be amongst the worst affected, along with desert countries and overpopulated megacities. Millions of people will be displaced from financial losses associated with drought, livestock and crop mortality, and storms. Millions more will lose their homes from rising sea levels and resultant floods. Furthermore, events seemingly unrelated to climate change are likely to increase – a humanitarian crisis is on the cards, with displaced peoples putting pressure on immigration laws and border controls as they seek new homes and employment. Civil wars and unrest may be sparked by food shortages and impossible climatic stress. For example, the Centre for Climate and Security suggests that in the case of Syria, regardless of political recovery, the country is so climate stressed that it would be on track to lose 50% of its agricultural capacity by 2050.

Despite all indicators of the devastating impact of climate change, wealthy nations remain complacent and frustratingly slow-paced at invoking mitigation strategies and environmental protection laws. I believe it is the responsibility of wealthier nations with the capacity to effect change, to do so. Greater investments in disaster risk reduction measures are necessary and will likely prove a worthwhile return for nations globally. According to Kristalina Georgieva (European Commissioner for humanitarian aid and crisis response), “Every dollar spent on prevention brings at least $4 in savings on damage”. With Australia budgeting $130 million for natural disaster aid in 2016-17, investing in prevention is well worth considering from an economic standpoint at minimum. Surely it is better to be safe than sorry – we only have one planet to protect, and if we lose it to climate change, we’ll be sorry for sure.

Words by Maddi Howard, art by Danyon Burge

This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 5 HOME