Climate Change Unfairly Targets People Facing Poverty

If done correctly, carbon pricing can help address a deeply unfair part climate change--it's outsized effects on the poor.

Anneliese is a 10th grader at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH where she is co-head of the Environmental Action Club and a New England Our Climate Fellow. She was first inspired to advocate for environmental sustainability by her childhood outdoors in the foothills of northern California. She became involved in the New England Fellowship in 2018 after a former teacher encouraged to become more involved in Our Climate.

Though climate change is a constantly expanding global crisis, disruptions in global temperatures have not had a significant effect on the day to day lives of many middle and upper-class Americans. If winters get colder, they turn up the thermostat. If summers are long and dry, they crank up the air conditioning, stay inside, or even better, vacation to somewhere cool. Too many Americans are able to ignore climate change by simply closing the door. They are able to ignore the multitude of impoverished communities who are the real victims of our changing climate. Their cushion of wealth blinds them to reality.

But in much of the agricultural industry there is no door to close. Currently, about ⅓ of Earth’s landmass is incapable of growing crops due to infertile soil. Droughts tearing through Africa and other areas worldwide devastate the already fragile agricultural areas. These conditions not only lead to food shortages and rising food prices but also to the destruction of many lower-class Americans livelihoods. Three quarters of people living in poverty worldwide depend on farming and/or natural resources as their income. The most impoverished families spend about 60% of their total earnings on food. With decreasing income and increasing food prices -not to mention natural disasters- climate change left 124 million people in need of immediate support due to food crisis around the globe throughout 2017. Those without the money or resources to move find themselves stranded in a depleted area with no source of income, unable to fulfil even the most basic of needs.

People living under the poverty line don’t only lose their livelihood but are more likely to fall ill from failing health standards caused by climate change. Clean water, already limited in developing countries, is becoming even less accessible due to larger scale environmental changes. Sudden disruption to seasonal cycles has also allowed populations of disease-spreading organisms such as ticks and mosquitoes to thrive in times and places where they were formerly unable to survive. This, in turn, inflates the number of people suffering from illnesses. For areas of the world where healthcare is limited and many families are forced to pay out of pocket for care, this can be devastating. In Northeast America, as winters become warmer, tick population that is normally frozen have an increased chance of survival, causing their populations to explode. These increasing populations cause more cases of Lyme disease. Luckily many of those who are affected have access to health care. This cannot be said for the increase of malaria cases in Africa.

To top off these disturbing truths, many countries whose citizens are most affected by the changing climate are least responsible for the amount of carbon being pumped into our atmosphere. A perfect example of this is Bangladesh, a country that is responsible for only 0.3% of global carbon emissions. In the next 40 years in Bangladesh, it is predicted that 18 million citizens will be displaced as 17% of their land is submerged by rising sea levels. Many of these people do not have the means to start a new life somewhere else and will become climate refugees, lost and without a home.

Wealthy, developed countries such as the United States are the most responsible for climate change due to their luxurious and irresponsible lifestyles. For this reason, it must be the countries who have an abundance of resources at their disposal who are held responsible for making strides to solve this global crisis. Although small daily acts such as reducing household waste and making personal decisions to use green energy are important, the most effective way to cause change is to instigate a carbon fee. This would level the playing field for green energy companies that currently cannot compete with how cheap fossil fuels are. Along with that, it would encourage companies to become more energy efficient because emitting less carbon would be economically advantageous.

Besides giving a leg up to the green energy, a carbon tax would also have to potential to redistribute wealth to help families struggling to make a living. Currently, in Massachusetts, Senator Mike Barrett is sponsoring a revenue-neutral fee-and-rebate system which would tax all carbon importers and then redistribute those funds as an equal rebate to all Massachusetts citizens. Taxing incoming carbon would increase the prices, but the rebate distributed to the citizens would even out household spendings. Lower income families typically use less carbon than upper and middle-class families, so they have to potential to come out ahead each month.

Another bill in Massachusetts currently is being sponsored by Representative Jennifer Benson. This bill is not entirely revenue neutral because it plans to set aside 20% of its revenue to improve green infrastructure in the state. However, the remaining 80% of revenue would be again be redistributed to the citizens. To ensure that low-income families to come out ahead, the rebates will be progressive and thus slightly larger for families in need.

Both of these bills would begin the long process of limiting the amount of carbon being released into our atmosphere while ensuring that low-income families are not negatively impacted. These bills have strong opposition from large fossil fuel companies who will be negatively impacted by them. This means that the bills will be unable to pass without the strong support of young voters like you, who understand the significance of these systems for our climate.

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