Guest essay by Eric Worrall
If climate change is predicted to hit “poor people” worse than “rich people”, then why aren’t green efforts focussed on helping poor people overcome their poverty?
It has long been expected that poor people would bear the brunt of climate change, largely because so many more of the world’s poorest live in tropical latitudes whereas, wealthier people tend to live in more temperate regions.
This is inverse to the generally accepted responsibility for climate change, which falls mainly on rich countries that benefited early on from industry, and thus have historically high emissions, compared with poorer countries that have only begun catching up in the past few decades.
It was only in 2014 that China’s per capita emissions caught up with those of people in the EU, even after years of above-average economic growth in China.
Those living in the poorest countries also have the most to lose, as so many depend on agriculture, which is likely to be badly affected by temperature rises and an increase in droughts, heatwaves and potential changes to rainfall that may lead to recurrent patterns of floods, droughts and higher intensity storms.
The suggestion that poor people will be hit by climate change, the implicit assumption they will be unable to adapt, in my opinion intrinsically embraces the old colonialist justifications for interfering in the affairs of others – an unspoken assumption that poor mostly non-white people are somehow less capable than the majority white inhabitants of rich countries, and need to be saved from their own unassailable mediocrity.
China rose from abject poverty to world economic superpower in just a few decades, without outside help. I remember when people spoke of Chinese imports with barely concealed contempt, a byword for shoddy quality and poor workmanship. Nowadays businesses turn to China for their manufacturing expertise. There is nothing lacking in the ability of Chinese people to improve their personal circumstances – all they needed was for their government to get out of the way.
There is no reason why other poor people can’t do the same.
If you truly believe poor people will be hit hardest by climate change, stop treating poor people as victims. Find low cost ways to help poor people help themselves, such as eliminating trade barriers. See if there are ways of eliminating other unnecessary impediments to development, such as economically damaging roadblocks to building affordable energy infrastructure.
Stop treating poor people as an intractable group of stupids, who are incapable of improving their own lives, incapable of aspiring to wealth on a par with the privileged columnists who seek to assuage their consumerist angst, by wallowing in the perceived misery of others.