As climates become warmer and photos of stranded polar bears and melting ice caps accumulate on the internet, people become more interested in “being green.” Usually, this means thinking about basic recycling. However, there is little focus on global impact, especially in the United States, where buying new technology seems to be the most effective solution. People choose one problem, and then attempt to change it. However, problems like climate change and income inequality need to be viewed together as a cycle to be understood.
People in poverty unknowingly contribute to climate change. Farmers can cause deforestation by using slash and burn agriculture, which occurs when farmers clear fields by cutting down forests and then burning plants to clear ground space. People in countries without access to clean energy for heating have to burn coal, which releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than natural gas. 214.3 pounds of carbon dioxide are emitted per million British thermal units, in comparison to 117 pounds for natural gas (U.S. EIA). Although this is changing due to people in other countries gaining access to more fuel sources, this still has a negative effect. Nicole Hassoun, a Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon University member, says, “Developing countries are expected to emit more carbon dioxide than industrialized countries by about 2018.” People still in poverty will continue to add to carbon dioxide emissions. In turn, people in poverty are the ones affected by climate change. For example, rising sea levels will cause “A third of Bangladesh… will be submerged, and with that country's poor people crowded closer together, incomes already close to subsistence level will be further submerged” (Globalization). Less space will be available to grow food, leading to possible food shortages. People with lower incomes are often hit the hardest by climate change.
For the Unites States, ignorance of climate change and income inequality runs rampant because we have only had a few disasters seen in popular news. Most notably, Hurricane Katrina devastated communities in New Orleans. Even after spending 14.5 billion dollars on upgraded levees, about “... two-thirds of residents still live in parts of the city … below sea level, and thus more prone to flooding”(New Orleans Walls). Instead of focusing on moving people with lower incomes, the United States only built levees. However, more disasters may come from climate that affect our country. The United States may see “... shifts in precipitation patterns resulting in drought, water shortages, and agricultural losses...; flooding and more intense storms” (Poverty). Clearly, these droughts can affect farm workers and leave them out of a job and money to pursue education for their families, just as other farmers would have fields swamped. However, those not living in these regions would still face an increase in price of food as fruit and vegetable growth dwindles. Meat may become more expensive if cattle do not have enough water to drink. Food becoming more expensive may bring more people into poverty, thus increasing emissions as people turn to cheap sources of energy, like coal, over sources of renewable energy, like solar power.
At first, people may think climate change will produce job openings. These jobs may include “vocational job[s] in an ecologically responsible trade, for instance: installing solar panels, weatherizing buildings, constructing and maintaining wind farms” (Poverty). However, these jobs are temporary and unreliable. Jobs like these involve moving, which could lead to a new rise of migrant workers subject to dangerous conditions. People in poverty may not have access to learn the skills necessary for more complicated jobs, such as building solar panels. These jobs can be dangerous due to many of them involving heights and the potential to fall, such as installing solar panels and wind farms. Workers hard-pressed for money may undercut safety regulations, causing incidents.
Overall, there is a growing demand to combat climate change and a growing realization that income inequality needs a solution. The wisest people have told us to “divide and conquer,” but it is clearly better to focus on the greater picture and context of actions. Climate change and income inequality are a continuing, unbroken cycle that worsens over time. If people connect the two issues, climate change and income inequality will discontinue.