Articles Climate Change

The Unfairness of the Climate Crisis

By: Nora Germain

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as prior to it, I began to notice that significant climate-related natural disasters were not making it into much of the mainstream news coverage in America. I imagine this is not a uniquely American problem, but one that is compounded by an extremely fast-paced 24-hour news cycle that tends to focus intensely on certain political topics, and less on events of biological, geologic or humanitarian importance. 

The climate crisis is of course, a crisis of two different but closely related problems. The first crisis consists of temperature changes which threaten life on Earth with extreme weather, rising sea levels and other deadly problems like drought. The second is a crisis of biodiversity loss, or the sixth mass extinction, which is exacerbated by climate change but is also fueled by humans’ use and misuse of land and resources like the Amazon Rainforest and the oceans in particular. Both of these issues will have to be solved if we are to continue living safely on Earth and if we’d like to preserve the vast variety of life on our planet.

These issues are incredibly complex, and there will not be any one solution to either side of the climate crisis. Planting trees or eating less meat or moving toward 100% green energy alone will not repair our imperiled planet and civilization. It will take a series of actions, and an array of lasting commitments, both individual and legislative, to save us. Perhaps this is why the climate crisis (or “Earth System Breakdown”) is not discussed more on the news, but I have another theory on why that may be.

The climate crisis is inherently a social justice issue, and what this means is that when we repair the communities and places that suffer most from environmental injustice, we also begin to repair the racial disparities and inherent unfairness that has pushed certain groups of people into the crosshairs of the climate crisis. One way to summarize the Green New Deal, a proposed piece of legislation in the United States to address inequality, the climate crisis and jobs, is the phrase, “no disposable people and no disposable places.”

These issues might be painful to talk about, but face them we must. Racism (more specifically — environmental racism) and a generations-long pattern of ignoring the human health impacts of activities like extracting oil and gas are forces at play here, and have already been proven (via Science Daily) to harm entire communities of people without the means to live in a far removed wealthy suburb with cleaner air and water.

I suspect that this unfairness at the heart of the climate crisis one the reason why the frequency and severity of climate disasters, and the true suffering they bring, is not discussed more often in the mainstream news. People want to look away, and they also want to believe that every time there is a devastating flood, hurricane, wildfire or drought that it’s an aberration rather than a pattern, and a pattern that is getting worse. 

The UN has recorded more than 7,000 extreme weather events since the year 2000, which is almost one per day. Central America is currently suffering deadly flooding from Hurricane Iota which is the strongest storm to ever hit the coast of Nicaragua and caused 100,000 people to require evacuation. We don’t yet know how many of them will become permanent or semi-permanent climate refugees as a result of this disaster, but for a crisis of this size, it has hardly received any coverage in American news. Sadly, this storm came just two weeks after storm Eta hit and also devastated the same region. 

Even more unjust than being hit in a two week period by two separate category 4 storms is the fact that according to meteorologist Eric Holthaus, Nicaragua contributes less than .02% of total greenhouse gas emissions but is suffering more than almost any other part of the world right now. This is the unfairness that American media outlets in particular seem to have a hard time reporting, much less discussing.

When we turn away from these disasters, and the inherent unfairness, racism and injustice that people of less means have been forced to endure to no fault of their own, we are lying to ourselves about this pattern and we are delaying our efforts to rectify the damage, or at least limit it going forward.

There is no quick and easy way to solve the climate crisis or to end human suffering, but there is a possibility to limit how much worse it gets in our lifetimes, to understand and face the trauma that we are causing people who have least contributed to these problems, and to, using these realizations and data, move forward in a compassionate and responsible way.

The climate crisis will come for all of us at some point, sooner or later, and our tax dollars are already being spent on rebuilding disaster after disaster. This report by the NRDC outlines the potential costs of the climate crisis if we don’t face it, and we really ought to, not only for moral and biological reasons which should be principle, but for financial reasons as well, because not solving it will ultimately be much more expensive than solving it.

I truly hope and wish that more media outlets around the world will bear witness to what is happening here in America and around the globe with regard to the climate crisis so that as a society, we can move forward in an honest and lucid way. After all, the climate crisis has no borders, and though we often legislate and argue about it within our own jurisdictions, real solutions will improve life for people beyond the limits of our own communities and this is something absolutely worth fighting for.