Lauren Rabaino

With the many questions a topic like global warming raises, one of the most persistent ones is this: Who will be most affected by global climate change? A study released last year in the journal EcoHealth identifies the most at-risk populations, and as it turns out, we have far greater concerns than simply the retirees in Florida.

Rather, the populations that have contributed the least to global warming stand to lose the most. The team of researchers led by environmental public health authority Jonathan Patz of the University of Wisconsin-Madison reports that the health burden of climate change will rest disproportionately on the world’s poor. Mortality rates in Africa, southern Asia, and South America will reach disturbingly high numbers if current trends continue. The first world nations pumping out the bulk of harmful emissions but are ironically “the least vulnerable to diseases, heat-related ailments, or nutrition problems associated with changing climate conditions.”

The report gives a vivid portrayal in the form of graphs and data sets to further show the “ethical dimensions” of global warming. Americans, for example, have carbon outputs that are six times the global average, but a far lower risk for the health effects of climate change.

The issue brings to mind Lester Milbrath’s Belief Paradigms regarding humanity’s generalized compassion toward people living in a different hemisphere; we just don’t care as much when people are half a world away from us.

Patz argues that changes in patterns of diseases and other negative outcomes of global warming suggest that the developed world must begin “to pursue equitable solutions that first protect the most vulnerable population groups.”

A similar America study by The Joint Center reports that African-Americans in the United States will suffer the effects of climate change more severely than their Caucasian counterparts. It states that they are twice as likely to live in cities where already-high temperatures are likely to become more severe as global warming increases. They’re also more likely to be “fuel poor”; increases in energy demand due to increased use of air-conditioning are more likely to affect them.

Other surveys show that while many African Americans do not believe global warming is one of the most pressing national problems, there is a strong belief that the federal government should take steps to deal with it. There is an understanding that there will be costs to deal with global warming. The economics of dealing with global warming will present new opportunities for many, and the country will be much better off if the government begins the long process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

A survey of 750 African American adults in the United States found that 81 percent said the government should take strong action on climate change and 70 think it’s an important issue in the 2008 presidential race.

“There is a fierce urgency regarding climate change effects on the African-American community,” Ralph Everett, the co-chair of the Commission to Engage African-Americans on Climate Change, told Reuters. “People need to understand what is at stake – our very health and well-being.”

Leaders from the 2,000 churches in the state that belong to the National Council of Churches said last year that they would urge their congregations to write to their representatives asking them to promote alternative energy and climate action, citing concerns that blacks are more at risk due to global warming.

An article in the Financial Post in July “Oil Sands Get Nod from U.S. Anti-Poverty Group,” underscores the need for more energy education. The article presents the views of a newly-formed “anti-poverty coalition led by African-American civil rights and faith leaders.”

According to the Post, “The group is waging a national campaign targeting 50 ‘extreme’ environmental organizations and 100 U.S. politicians it says are restricting energy supplies through climate-change legislation, causing oil prices to spike to levels that are ‘strangling’ the poor.”

According to the coalition, all energy is good energy, because it enables economic growth, and lowers energy prices for poor people.

Climate experts need to talk to these groups. They must be helped to understand that poor people will be the most immediate victims of climate change and that the shift away from fossil fuels is not merely an option. The price increases in oil, gas, coal, and electricity are not due to climate regulations, but to depletion and decline, and with continued use of these commodities everyone – both rich and poor – will be negatively affected.

Ben Eckold is a business senior with a minor in sustainable environments. “The Green Spot” will run every in this section every Tuesday. The column features a variety of writers on environmental and sustainability issues.

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