The Relationship Between Global Warming and Poverty 

Most people would agree that two of the major problems our world faces are global warming and poverty, and many people spend their time trying to solve one or the other. For the past 150 years, the global temperature has been rising. This is largely due to emissions of greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels like petroleum. This human-caused climate change has many negative effects, including rising ocean levels, and more intense storms. Poverty is also causing harm to many people. In 2015, 10% of the world population lived on less than $1.90 a day. A major reason poverty is so commonplace is global warming. If we can stop climate change, poverty will be much easier to eradicate.

The theory of global warming was in the 1930s by Guy Callendar, who theorized that carbon dioxide emissions were causing global temperatures to increase. Scientists had theorized before that certain gasses could trap heat in the atmosphere, but Callendar was the first to argue that it was currently happening. However, no major action was taken until 1970, when the first Earth Day, “an event to increase public awareness of the world’s environmental problems” took place (The First Earth Day, HISTORY). This goal was successful, as it led to the EPA’s establishment in that year’s July, with the purpose of handling national pollution legislation. Later, in 1972, droughts in countries such as Africa cause a food crisis, a link between global warming and poverty. These droughts continue, and the worry about global warming increases.

In 1982, it is reported that 1981 was the hottest year since the 1970’s when the temperature recording began. At this point, it is clear to most scientists that global warming is a threat. Nuclear energy was thought to be a potential replacement for fossil fuels, but the devastating meltdown at Chernobyl destroyed any thoughts of prominent use. The Kyoto Protocol, a treaty that set targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, was created in 1997, but the United States rejected it. This treaty went into effect in 2005 with the U.S being one of the only major nations to not sign on. 2015 was a major year for global warming history. First, the Paris Agreement was signed by almost all countries, in which the signers would set targets for reduced gas emissions, and report their progress. Secondly, and less positively, the global temperature (56.6 ºF/ 14.8°C) was higher than it had been for thousands of years, and the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet was found to be irreversible, which will eventually lead to significant increase of the sea level. While we have taken some action against climate change in recent years, it is not enough.

Droughts and other effects of global warming have had a major impact on Ethiopia. Coffee farming is a major part of Ethiopia’s economy; “15 million Ethiopians depend on it” (Columbus). However, half of the growing area may be destroyed by global warming, according to The Guardian. This will harm not only the farmers, who will have to look elsewhere to make enough money to avoid poverty, but also coffee drinkers, who will need to pay more money for worse coffee. Ethiopian farmers are moving to higher altitudes to combat the heat and drought, but it is predicted that by 2040 they will have nowhere left to move to.

Some farmers are switching from coffee to other crops, such as maize, but this may cause temperatures to increase even more. This is because coffee grows in the shade of trees, but these trees will be cut down if farmers switch to crops that would not benefit from the darkness. Despite the difficulty that they are facing due to global warming, in large part caused by other countries, Ethiopians are fighting still fighting climate change, with the goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. The main way they are doing this is through “participatory forest management,” in which the government helps communities manage and protect their forests. While the communities may not cut down the trees for timber, they can still profit through secondary products such as fruit and honey. Currently, Ethiopia is on track to gain 5 million hectares of forest by 2020.

Global warming is causing an increase in the frequency and severity of hurricanes, and this is especially damaging to island nations like Haiti. Small island nations are “widely considered to be among the most vulnerable” to climate change (Earth Institute). This is because of both the direct effects of global warming and the factors that already existed, such as dense population and limited water resources. Haiti was already vulnerable to natural disasters, and global warming only increases the devastation that they cause.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew struck Haiti. Not only did the hurricane kill hundreds of Haitians, but it also destroyed farmland that was vital for many families to make a living. Even worse, not even a year after the destruction caused by Matthew, Haiti was struck again, this time by Hurricane Irma. Jacqueline Charles from the Miami Herald interviewed a farmer after the hurricane, who said that he didn’t even have “one tree with food on it.” Northern Haiti was already impoverished by Matthew, and Irma just hurt it even more. We can only wonder how much less damage would have been done if the hurricanes weren’t strengthened by climate change.

Kiribati is another island nation that is being harmed by global warming but not by hurricanes. Kiribati is instead suffering from extreme flooding. One way that the floods harm Kiribati is damaging their supply of fresh water. The affected water makes the drinker sick and is a major contributor to Kiribati’s mortality rate, “the highest in the Pacific Islands, at 43 deaths per thousand live births” (World Bank). To combat this, the government has set up rainwater collection systems in case of a drought or another flood. The floods in Kiribati are also very destructive, damaging roads, buildings, and even their food supply, for the stronger waves can damage the reefs where many people fish. The flooding has led the government to urge citizens to migrate and buy “nearly 6,000 acres in Fiji, an island nation more than 1,000 miles away” (New York Times). Despite this, many residents believe that there is no urgent need to leave Kiribati. If we don’t start fighting climate change now, it won’t be long before there is no inhabitable land left in Kiribati.

Many solutions have been proposed for global warming, but not enough action has actually been taken. Most of the solutions proposed only fight global warming, such as switching to a power source that does not produce greenhouse gasses, but there are others that fight both global warming and poverty. One example of these dual-purpose solutions is rooftop solar panels. It is clear that this could reduce global warming by providing a “clean” energy source, but it would also benefit rural areas without consistent access to power. Kiribati is a good example of a nation that would benefit from this, for power is likely hard to come by during floods that could damage power plants.

Small-scale wind power would be beneficial for the same reasons. Another proposed solution to global warming and poverty is reducing food waste. Currently, “a third of the food raised or prepared does not make it to farm or fork” (Hawken, 42). Shrinking this would reduce poverty, for nearly 800 million people suffer from hunger, and it would also reduce global warming because decomposing food collectively produces almost as much greenhouse gas as the entire country of China. Personally, I think that the solution to global warming and poverty will be a combination of many small pieces, possibly some of the solutions mentioned above, or perhaps others that nobody has thought of yet.

The poverty caused by global warming is increasing every day. Whether it is causing droughts that make farming difficult if not impossible, making hurricanes more destructive than they already were, or flooding low-lying islands, no country will be unaffected by climate change. We need to work together, not as individual parties or countries, but as one united world, if we are to stop the devastating force that is global warming. No country can stand alone from the rest and lie to itself that they will be unharmed by climate change. Every day, more people’s lives are ruined by the effects of global warming. We must act now to stop climate change. Our time is running out.