Global warming and low income communities

Climate change is finally seen as a mainstream concern, with key actors in society, all political parties and a range of new constituencies now taking action to avert dangerous climate change. However, the focus of current mainstream debate is still largely on the science, or impacts on biodiversity, or the economic costs or benefits of taking action. (2007)

Global warming and low income communities

 

Climate change is finally seen as a mainstream concern, with key actors in society, all political parties and a range of new constituencies now taking action to avert dangerous climate change. However, the focus of current mainstream debate is still largely on the science, or impacts on biodiversity, or the economic costs or benefits of taking action.

 

Winter rains and low temperatures in recent months have probably taken some of the edge off how much global warming is impacting on people’s lives here in Victoria. However, a long and costly bushfire season over summer and a decade long drought gives a sense of what is in store for the future – which is expected to include hotter weather, sea level rise, storm surge damage along the shores of Port Phillip Bay and other low lying areas, and less flow into our rivers, especially in the Murray – Darling system. This will bring impacts on all of us, from rising food and insurance prices, to direct impacts through damage from flood, extreme weather and other climate-related damage. It will be the poorest who suffer the most, especially from increased food and energy poverty. Friends of the Earth (FoE) Melbourne recently released a report on the social impacts of climate change on low income communities which highlights the problems expected to arise for people on limited income.

 

Broadly, it will include:

  • increased food poverty as fresh and good quality becomes more expensive (and sugar becomes cheaper, thereby fueling existing problems associated with poor diet);
  • increased energy poverty as people in rental housing or who are struggling with mortgages have to spend more of their income on heating and cooling their houses. Cheap appliances tend to be more energy consuming;
  • increased travel poverty, especially in outlying areas of suburban Melbourne and rural Victoria as the peak oil phenomena drives up fuel costs and people in these areas have limited or no access to public transport;
  • public health impacts as vector bourne disease such as Ross River fever moves south. Heat waves are expected to especially impact on low income elderly people and put considerable strain on public health infrastructure.

 

And globally it will be the same, in all corners of the developing (or Majority) world as floods, droughts, crop failure and desertification undermines attempts at achieving sustainable development and an end to hunger. In addition it is quite possibly millions of people will be displaced from their homes as climate refugees (the World Bank suggests up to 60 million people with a 1 metre sea level rise – quite possible by the end of this century). As an added irony, it is these people who have contributed very little to the problem. Much of the blame for climate change must come back to nations like Australia because of a history of industrial development based on old energy sources such as coal and high consumption personal lifestyles. As the Australian Conservation Foundation recently pointed out in their Consumption Atlas, richer neighbourhoods add a disproportionate amount to global warming because of high consumption lifestyles.

 

There are a wealth of recent information, including the Stern report of last year and the 2007 IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) assessment, both of which warn of dire consequences if the global community does not take immediate action to reduce emissions. We already have seen an overall increase of average global temperatures of close to 1.4oC (partly masked by the global dimming phenomena) and many climate scientists warn that ‘dangerous’ change starts at 2oC , with catastrophic warming kicking in at about a 3oC rise. It is clear that early action will reduce impacts and climate change modelling increasingly suggest we have a remaining window of 10 to 15 years to bring about the required changes.

 

Given the historical carbon debt of countries like Australia, we need to frame our approach on the principles of justice and internationalism. This means helping other nations ‘leap frog’ into clean technologies as well as reducing our emissions to a global fair share. It also means working collaboratively with the other nations on the planet to achieve meaningful emission reductions and the Kyoto Protocol remains the main game in terms of achieving this.

 

Locally, we will need a range of measures by local and state governments as well as service providers which will alleviate the impacts of global warming on low income individuals and families. These are addressed in the report Climate change and equity in Victoria, which is available at:

http://www.foe.org.au/resources/publications/climate-justice/

 

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