Humanity's Biggest Crisis and How To Solve It
For most of our lifetime, climate change was framed as an ecological problem. We were told the destruction of the Amazon was causing massive loss of wildlife. Melting ice caps were threatening to cause extinction of polar bears. Plastic pollution was harming marine animals like sea turtles and fish. While this loss of animal and plant life was sad, and maybe pushed us to recycle more or pick up litter, climate change was understood to be a problem for the future and primarily, for animals. David Attenborough's documentaries are a good example of this. Often, climate change and plastic pollution were referenced, but only as a threat to the lives of animals and their ecosystems.
This understanding of climate change is rapidly changing. As we begin to witness the devastation climate change is causing on the lives of people across the globe, a shared sense of urgency is starting to unite people against this crisis. The world is waking up to the fact that we are living through the biggest humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. We are waking up to the fact that we are living through the beginning of the biggest humanitarian crisis the world has ever seen. 21.5 million people every year are already being forced to migrate because of extreme weather hazards that are exacerbated by climate change. We are also going to see increased food, water, and other vital resource shortages. As further warming and flooding reduces the Earth's habitable land mass, this scale of migration will increase exponentially. If our farmlands are no longer suitable for growing crops, the food insecurity will be catastrophic. The strain this will have on our economies and health services will be immense. Moreover, resource shortage always makes violent conflict more likely. If we continue to rely on polluting industries, the Earth could well be uninhabitable for human life. This deadly, dystopian world is not merely science fiction - it is playing out before us right now. Research suggests that air pollution caused a staggering 8.7 million deaths in 2018 alone.
The world we are hurtling towards is terrifying, so how is it that we have let the problem spiral so far out of control? Sadly, the relentless resource extraction intrinsic to global capitalism is the foundation for many of our economies. There is much reluctance to change this, and it is understandable why. So many people across the world struggle daily for access to food, water, and shelter. The thought of scrapping whole industries, and all the jobs those industries create, would put the survival of their families at serious risk. The idea of completely reorganising the way we live our lives is scary, and doing so is a mammoth task. But the consequences of not doing so are infinitely more severe.
So, what can we do? We need to treat it for what it is, an impending threat to the survival of humanity and the greatest emergency we have ever faced. The silver lining of this is that uprooting our economies gives us a once in a lifetime opportunity to build back better. Yes, we need to abruptly scrap dangerous polluting industries. But at the same time, we need unprecedented levels of investment in the green economy, to create well-paid and dignified work for people. We need to make our housing more energy efficient, and at the same time can create high quality, affordable living conditions for people. The exchange of information and ideas between countries that will be necessary for effective green transitions could provide opportunities for greater collaboration and potentially reduce conflict. As countries will require highly specialised workers to build new industry, it will allow immigrants to be valued and thrive in society, rather than being viewed as a burden and face discrimination.
It must also be acknowledged that while climate change poses a threat to the whole of the world, those who were most instrumental in causing it are not the ones most burdened by its impact. The majority of people forced to move because of climate change come from countries that account for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, there is massive overlap between countries that have pioneered Capitalism and those that were colonisers. Both of these forces were essential in creating the climate crisis today, and as such, countries like the U.K. should pay reparations and invest in the just transitions in countries whose decimation they have historically profited from. This is not charity; this is necessary for the survival of all. Abandoning all the people who have lost land and livelihood to the climate crisis will not create the productive, just societies that are needed to efficiently combat the crisis. This crisis was pioneered by the greed and injustice endemic to Western Capitalism, and as such, financing the solutions to the crisis must come from here as well. This can be done by radical taxation of extreme wealth of individuals and corporations, and total divestment from conflict and arms production.
Climate change is the single greatest humanitarian crisis the world will ever experience. It will continue to cause, on an ever-greater scale, massive death, displacement, illness, and economic and social hardship. However, we also have a small window of opportunity. A chance not only to fix the climate, but in doing so create fairer institutions of society.