Flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy in Sea Bright, New Jersey.

Climate Change has a devastating impact on those living in poverty, but the effects are being felt worldwide. Most recently, 55 million people were affected by Hurricane Sandy, which stretched 900 miles and killed 113 people.

We must do our part to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, by not only educating ourselves and others on the causes and effects of climate change, but also taking the proper steps to preserve the world in which we live.

Last week, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office (UU-UNO) attended a climate change meeting hosted by the Department of Public Information/Non-Governmental Organization (DPI/NGO) at the United Nations. Fighting poverty remains one of the highest priorities not only of the UN development agenda, but also for the Climate Task Force at the UU-UNO. Climate change has become an apparent problem in the lives of many living in extreme poverty, interfering with and sometimes halting development. Guest speaker at the DPI/NGO meeting, Daniel Buckley, a member of the Climate Change Team for the Environment and Energy Group in the Bureau for Development Policy of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), emphasized that the failure to deal with climate change will affect 40% of the poorest populations. Combating climate change is imperative. It causes life-threatening problems such as poor water quality, resulting in increases in fever, diarrhea, and malaria as well as other diseases. Although most of the facts presented in this meeting were already familiar to the UU-UNO, I found it was important to hear guest speakers calling for action. According to Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Bangladesh to the UN, Abdul Momen, more than five million people in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, were forced to leave their homes due to permanent flooding and are now part of the “floating population”, whom live in very harsh conditions, with a lack of sanitation and other civic amenities. Pakistani school districts have been regularly destroyed and their children cannot receive education on a consistent basis. Natural disasters cause greater inequality and social injustice. 

Flooding in Dhaka, Bangladesh, due to monsoon rains.

Researchers have conducted a long-term study on the Cook Islands, a cluster of Polynesian islands close to New Zealand, where the population has suffered through five cyclones in a single year. The cyclones have saturated the taro patches (an edible plant) with salt water, threatening the nation’s food security. The seasons have become increasingly longer and from temperature in the summer months (April – June) has increased from 35 Celsius to a record 48 Celsius. People must leave their community and seek work in the big cities during these months, and loss of jobs in the summer months is affecting men and women equally. The Cook Islands lack the infrastructure to deal with such natural catastrophes.

There are those who are contrariant to climate change, for example, those who profit from conventional energy sources, such as oil investors, whom may oppose climate change for economic reasons. The American public has been more focused on terrorism than climate change, although the latter is a thousand times more expensive in both money and lives. Climate change is not a simple enemy—it is not a person with malicious intentions who is trying to kill us. While too abstract and conceptual for too many to grasp, we have experienced two hurricanes in New York in the previous year and thus have had a foretaste of some of the effects of the changing climate. The UU-UNO will continue to raise awareness to help people understand the numbers of lives and the billions of dollars this phenomenon has cost us. The public may be more motivated to address the problem when they understand that climate change will not only affect the poorest people; we will all suffer if we do not address it now. Climate Change could be compared to an airplane which has caught on fire, as was done by Caroljean Willie, a guest speaker at the DPI/NGO meeting; the people from economy class will storm into the business class of the plane and eventually the whole plane will go down. Migration across borders to escape floods, hurricanes and droughts has already taken place in South East Asia.
The interest in climate change seems to peak for a period of time following major disasters such as Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Hurricane Irene in 2011, and the recent Hurricane Sandy. We think about climate change in those moments because the disasters greatly impact us: no electricity and water for days, no public transportation and no work. Our experiences in the United States so far are minor in comparison to vulnerable places like Bangladesh, the Maldives, and the Cook Islands. The UU-UNO climate change team has expanded its work from present climate change research to a focus on the psychological factors which contribute to “climate change blindness”, in the United States, in order to formulate a stronger action plan on this complex issue. After Hurricane Sandy hit New York, leaving many homeless and taking some lives, an opportunity has arose to promote the advocacy and education of climate change. The US and China have the highest Carbon emissions in the world and it is time for change. Legislation has to implement stricter regulations on recycling and greenhouse emissions. Greenhouse emissions are primarily the burning of fossil fuels to heat homes and businesses, electricity production and fueling transportation. The aftermath of natural catastrophes has inflicted a much higher cost then terrorism, or wars in other countries. Now is the time to get involved in saving the world we live in! Please click here for more information on climate change and environmental justice. Stay tuned for an upcoming Climate Change Action Guide from the UU-UNO!

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