Regardless of your belief in the urgency of climate change, it is inarguable that sea levels are rising rapidly around the globe. Natural disasters are also creating major problems for the countries they affect. With Hurricane Dorian causing panic in Florida and the Bahamas, it is no question that we as a nation- and as a global community -have to answer to more natural disasters in the future, as they seem to be on the rise.
We have seen the effects of such a juggernaut as a hurricane in the United States before: Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is one example of the catastrophic effects of natural disasters on property and communities as a whole. However, what about the different places around the world that suffer- or will suffer- from natural disasters and rising sea levels as a result of climate change?
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change first published its Climate Change Synthesis Report in 2015 (also known as the AR5 report), stating that human activity has likely caused an “increase in extreme high sea levels” (IPCC, 2014, p. 7). A 2013 academic article published by researchers from Princeton University, Old Dominion University (Virginia), and the University of Iowa suggests that while tropical storms may decrease in number, the intensity of hurricanes is expected to increase (Knutson, et al, 2013). The grave dangers of rising sea levels and hurricanes are just getting started.
Global communities that are economically disadvantaged do not have the means to cope with major changes created by climate change. These places are particularly vulnerable to environmental disasters in which they will have to move inland, reconstruct their homes, or generally recuperate after natural disasters. Developing countries or communities in Southeast Asia are examples of communities that aren’t capable of managing rising sea levels. In the documentary Before the Flood (I highly recommend watching it! It’s on Netflix), small island populations in the South Pacific struggle to come to terms with their disappearing ancestral lands and ecosystems while sea levels rise.
We don’t have to look far away from home for the effects of climate change: Here in the United States, Florida will face rising sea levels that will likely force the relocation of many southern Florida residents. As mentioned, Hurricane Dorian destroyed much in its path earlier this month surrounding the coast of Florida.
Knowing these facts and seeing media coverage of one destructive storm after another, it’s time- it has been for a while- to ask ourselves: What do we owe to people around the globe? What is our definition of global citizenship?
Rising temperatures in the Sahel, a region cutting horizontally through Sub-Saharan Africa, will see droughts and flooding at different intervals, causing major problems for communities’ food supplies (United Nations, Global Warming: severe consequences for Africa). South Pacific island nations are facing the destruction of their homelands. Rural farmers in India will suffer from drought (Environmental Defense Fund, India: Development while fighting climate change). Heat waves are increasing in Europe, Asia, and Australia (IPCC, 53).
The IPCC report states that “risks are unevenly distributed and are generally greater for disadvantaged people and communities in countries at all levels of development” (13). Is it our job to pay attention to climate change for the sake of other people on the planet? The growth of some communities (such as India) has been stunted because of European and American interference until recent years (that’s another issue, but bear with me). So should we feel obligated to help?
Altruism isn’t what I’m asking you to think about. But it’s essential for us to be mindful that we in the United States aren’t the only people affected by environmental problems. It is our pollution affecting the world’s oceans, our American plastics and recycling is sent to Vietnam, Ecuador, Malaysia, Turkey, and others (The Guardian, United States of Plastic report) for sorting by disadvantaged communities. We as human beings have an inherent responsibility to each other: To secure communities’ rightful inheritance to their ancestral lands, to ensure that rural communities have suitable resources and land to farm, and to stop the destruction of our own country, too.
From a philosophical standpoint, we owe a responsibility to humanity. We must address the gravity of climate change, particularly from a social and racial standpoint. There is more than enough real estate investments, industrial needs, and money involved. Cultures, histories, and human lives are at stake. Centuries of human history will be lost, minority and indigenous cultures around the globe will be even more disregarded, and climate refugees will increase.
The social implications of climate change issues are why humanity needs to take action now. Not just for ecosystems and nature, but for the sake of preserving humanity itself. We need to take ownership of our contributions to climate change and understand that we have a responsibility to one another. I believe humans are capable of fighting for our collective histories and cultures.
Will you join the fight?