Climate Change Confronted with Wealth Inequality around the World

As a resident of planet Earth it feels wonderful to acknowledge the fact that never before in our known history have we been technologically more advanced, powerful and, for the most part, able to lead more comfortable lives, so to speak. However, it seems that the advanced, powerful and comfortable lives that we acquired over the last two hundred years came with a huge cost.

Too much CO2 in the atmosphere leads to increased global warming and irreversible climate change. This intensifies specific weather conditions and climate events, such as extreme heat waves, heavy rainfalls, floods, landslides, wildfires, warmer winters and severe summers. Earth’s dry regions become drier and wet places even wetter.

Over the time climate-related disasters will become a common phenomenon. Soon entire biosphere will be impacted and ecosystems will start dying. Biodiversity will decline significantly while the rising sea levels will start swallowing coastal cities around the globe. Although the explanation sounds simple on the surface, the complications created by the rapid climate change are certainly not that simple, to say the least.

Climate change is, without doubt, the most serious and challenging issue of our time; a crisis hovering over our heads, right now. Like the COVID-19, it knows no boundaries and respects no nationality. It is, in fact, threatening our entire existence (both rich and poor) in this planet we call home.

We are forced to sincerely question whether we are on the right track, or we shall have to make extensive corrections in our life-style. The reason being that, if we look closely, everything we do to make our lives easier is causing destruction to our environment; whether it be the clothing we put on, air-conditioned houses we live in, the way we travel, the foods we consume, the roads we drive on or the electronic gadgets we use, etc. Somehow or other, they all have impacted air, water, soil, wild life, marine life and the environment as a whole.

In the battle against rapid climate change, fixing one part of the system leads to yet another problem which might have its own offshoots of problems and so on. Situations get even more complicated when we are confronted with the reality of wealth inequality around the world.  

We live in a world which is deeply divided between rich and poor. This is no hidden fact that there is a clear and positive correlation between the prosperity of nations and their carbon emissions.

So, what if we simply ask the rich countries to cut back on their energy consumption and luxurious lifestyles? This may sound rational to some but not a workable solution for obvious reasons; you cannot expect billions of people giving up their business as usual overnight.

Moreover, over 60 percent of global emissions come from low and middle income countries. This includes countries like ours where most people are struggling to earn basic necessities, trying to escape poverty or striving for a reasonably comfortable lifestyle.

So, it will be unfair to ask developing economies to cut emissions to stop rapid climate change; especially when the rich countries making such demands have already caused (and are still causing) severe damages in the first place.

Both rich and poor depend on agricultural products. Methane from rice contributes same as all the air traffic emissions in the world, and could grow substantially in coming days. Overall, agriculture contributes nearly 30% of global GHG emissions and nearly 60% of food emissions come from animal-based foods, such as meat, cheese and eggs.

As per UN projections our global population will reach 10 billion by 2050. It is highly unlikely that we could feed them without emitting even more GHGs.

The demand for animal-based food is growing in both rich and poor countries around the world. About 40% of world agricultural land (equivalent to North and South America combined) is being used for meat production, one way or another. Although many argue it to be the worst source of GHG emissions, cutting back on meat consumption can easily make both rich and poor unhappy.

This puts us in a unique situation where eating less meat alone won’t stop climate change, but climate change cannot be stopped by continuing meat production at the same pace. The same holds true for many other consumer products we may consider essential to run our day-to-day life.

Some critiques end up blaming capitalism and ever-increasing demand for economic growth for the climate change crisis. They suggest economic “degrowth” to be the solution. The proponents push for ecologically sustainable society with socio-environmental wellbeing as the indicator of prosperity. All that sounds good, but it seems a bit far-fetched argument, if not unrealistic.

It all comes down to this: we cannot stop rapid climate change without changing our life-style. If we are really serious about this change, both rich and poor will have to chip in. Rich may need to sacrifice some of their luxuries while poor will have to give up some of their ambitious dreams, unless we come up with some technological interventions rather sooner than later.

I have very little doubt that climate change, in the next couple of decades, will dramatically transform our modern way of living on this planet as we know it. Even after taking drastic preventive measures now, it is highly likely that we will be living in a completely different world within the next couple of decades.

My only hope is that the residents of this new world will have a brand new way of looking at life; a new thinking, a new politics, a new socioeconomics and a renewed relationship with both technology and nature. Although it will feel like living in a different planet then, I seriously hope and pray it will be relatively healthier and safer to live in.