The ris­ing cost of ig­nor­ing cli­mate change

Bitch: A Feminist Response to Pop Culture - - EXPENSIVE DENIAL - By Joshunda San­ders | il­lus­tra­tions by Tess Ru­bin­stein

In the af­ter­math of 45’s de­ci­sion to exit the Paris Agree­ment—an ac­cord be­tween dozens of coun­tries to work to­ward mit­i­gat­ing cli­mate change through cutting car­bon emis­sions—it is no­table that the peo­ple who will pay the steep­est price for cli­mate-change de­nial and ap­a­thy are the world’s poor­est women.

I take all of this per­son­ally as a word nerd who’s al­ways cared about the en­vi­ron­ment, though I didn’t have easy ac­cess to clean air or green spa­ces grow­ing up in the Bronx. Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Moth­ers’ Gar­dens and her po­etry deep­ened my ap­pre­ci­a­tion for na­ture, along with a strong de­sire to pro­tect it. Years later, I was hon­ored to work on less­en­ing the im­pact of cli­mate change as a deputy press sec­re­tary at the Depart­ment of En­ergy dur­ing the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

For all th­ese rea­sons, I al­ways think about how ma­jor pol­icy de­ci­sions im­pact women and the poor. At the in­ter­sec­tion of my iden­ti­ties as a jour­nal­ist, writer, and scholar who grew up in poverty, I am most at­tuned to the marginal­ized nar­ra­tives of women like me, who hold up half the sky even as the at­mos­phere thins against our palms.

I look for those nar­ra­tives in the as­pi­ra­tional and ob­jec­tive re­port­ing in the New York Times. Ev­ery now and then, I catch a glimpse of them, but more of­ten, read­ing the Times as a wo­man of color can feel like be­ing in a one-sided re­la­tion­ship. In this, the Times is a mi­cro­cosm of the world at large.

Even in a time when facts have be­come a mat­ter of par­ti­san opin­ion, Arthur O. Sulzberger Jr., pub­lisher and owner of the New York Times Com­pany, hired cli­mate skep­tic and con­ser­va­tive colum­nist Bret Stephens to join the mostly lib­eral ros­ter of opin­ion colum­nists as part of an on­go­ing ef­fort to of­fer bal­anced views to its mostly lib­eral read­er­ship. Other ef­forts in­clude, but are not lim­ited to, a failed so­lic­i­ta­tion to Times read­ers to “say some­thing nice” about 45.

Stephens’s col­umn led to a spike in can­celed sub­scrip­tions and calls for the Times to stop pro­mot­ing cli­mate de­nial. But Stephens as­serts that he doesn’t deny cli­mate change so much as point out that sci­ence is some­times anec­do­tal. Th­ese as­ser­tions are part of a fairly trans­par­ent but ten­u­ous at­tempt by the Times to pro­vide a “di­ver­sity” of view­points,

which in the Trump era means con­ser­va­tive or right-of-cen­ter white men.

It’s frus­trat­ing, how­ever, be­cause, as of this writ­ing, the Times’s valu­able and in­sight­ful pub­lic ed­i­tor po­si­tion has been elim­i­nated.

The irony is that the pub­lic ed­i­tor role, which served as a bridge be­tween read­ers and writ­ers/ edi­tors, will no longer give the Times sig­nif­i­cant in­sight into chal­leng­ing the white male priv­i­lege at the heart of Stephens’s as­ser­tions. Per­haps for a white male con­ser­va­tive writer pre­vi­ously em­ployed at the Wall Street Jour­nal, it’s easy to deny the re­al­i­ties of cli­mate change with­out any ac­count­abil­ity to dis­agree­ment.

Stephens’s first col­umn, “Cli­mate of Com­plete Cer­tainty,” com­pared the cer­tainty Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign staff had in her abil­ity to win with the way ra­tio­nal peo­ple think about cli­mate change: We live in a world in which data con­vey au­thor­ity. But au­thor­ity has a way of de­scend­ing to cer­ti­tude, and cer­ti­tude begets hubris….

Claim­ing to­tal cer­tainty about the sci­ence tra­duces the spirit of sci­ence and cre­ates open­ings for doubt when­ever a cli­mate claim proves wrong…. Cen­so­ri­ously as­sert­ing one’s moral su­pe­ri­or­ity and treat­ing skep­tics as im­be­ciles and de­plorables wins few con­verts.

For the record, con­verts don’t in­ter­est me. I’m also not a fan of hubris. But I am a girl who loves a few good facts, es­pe­cially when they’re ger­mane to hu­man­ity. Here are a few from NASA: » Ap­prox­i­mately 97 per­cent of ac­tively pub­lish­ing cli­mate sci­en­tists agree that cli­mate change is real, as ev­i­denced by global warming caused by hu­man ac­tion that has led to an in­crease in green­house gases and sea-level rise. For what it’s worth, Oc­to­ber 2016 data from the Pew Re­search Cen­ter mea­sur­ing Amer­i­cans’ views on cli­mate data and global warming found that 20 per­cent of U.S. adults be­lieve there’s no ev­i­dence of global warming and that “ma­jori­ties of Amer­i­cans ap­pear skep­ti­cal of cli­mate sci­en­tists.”

» “Hu­man-in­duced cli­mate change re­quires ur­gent ac­tion,” ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Geo­phys­i­cal Union. “Hu­man­ity is the ma­jor in­flu­ence on the global cli­mate change ob­served over the past 50 years. Rapid so­ci­etal re­sponses can sig­nif­i­cantly lessen neg­a­tive out­comes.”

» The In­ter­gov­ern­men­tal Panel on Cli­mate Change says, in part, “Sci­en­tific ev­i­dence

for warming of the cli­mate sys­tem is un­equiv­o­cal.”

It’s women and chil­dren who bear the brunt not only of cli­mate change but also cli­mate-change de­nial. The “fem­i­niza­tion of poverty” pro­vides im­por­tant fac­tual con­text: Women are of­ten cut off from nec­es­sary wealth-build­ing ac­cess to credit, land, and in­her­i­tance. Also, on av­er­age, women barely earn half of what men make, so although women com­prise the global ma­jor­ity, they are liv­ing on less than a dol­lar a day. It’s the women and chil­dren who in­creas­ingly have to go fur­ther and fur­ther from their homes to get water or face the daily threat of drought who do not have the lux­ury of be­ing in de­nial about cli­mate shifts. In fact, cli­mate-change pol­icy de­bates and ide­o­log­i­cal wars are a lux­ury that only men like Stephens and peo­ple of color with priv­i­lege can af­ford. The real, un­for­tu­nate truth is that the world’s pre­dom­i­nately fe­male poor will feel the ef­fects of any and all at­tempts to soften, si­lence, or deny cli­mate change.

Global warming has already taken a toll on women and the poor, ac­cord­ing to a 2009 UN Re­port connecting the dots be­tween cli­mate change and women’s rights. In 2013, a World So­cial Sci­ence Re­port on Chang­ing Global En­vi­ron­ments noted that women rely more on com­mon prop­erty than men be­cause gen­der lim­its ac­cess to pri­vate prop­erty re­sources:

As a re­sult, when the com­mons de­cline or de­grade, it tends to cost women more than men in terms of their time, in­come, nu­tri­tion and health (Agar­wal, 2010). The degra­da­tion of lo­cal forests, for in­stance, in­creases the time women and girls take to col­lect ba­sic needs,

It’s the women and chil­dren who in­creas­ingly have to go fur­ther and fur­ther from their homes to get water, or face the daily threat of drought who do not have the lux­ury of be­ing in de­nial about cli­mate shifts.

es­pe­cially fire­wood—their sin­gle most im­por­tant source of ru­ral do­mes­tic en­ergy.

Glob­ally, 2.4 bil­lion house­holds still use con­ven­tional bio­fu­els, es­pe­cially fire­wood, which they gather, for cook­ing and heat­ing.

Cli­mate change has already changed the lives of women and the poor, and the facts are all around us, as Bani Amor has de­tailed for Bitch Me­dia in a four-part se­ries. There are

nu­mer­ous in­ter­na­tional ex­am­ples of dis­par­ity un­der­scored by nat­u­ral-dis­as­ter re­sponses, whether in Ecuador, Haiti, or the United States, as il­lus­trated in an April New York Times ar­ti­cle that re­ported many South African women and fam­i­lies were already se­verely im­pacted by the worst drought in the coun­try’s his­tory. Cape Town mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille said her city was in the midst of an ur­ban emer­gency: “We have 120 days of us­able water left. We have to lit­i­gate cli­mate change ev­ery day.”

In the United States, poor women whose lives were up­ended by Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina not only had to con­tend with the trau­matic re­al­i­ties that come with nat­u­ral dis­as­ters—which are ex­pected to be­come more fre­quent with cli­mate change— but in­creased vul­ner­a­bil­ity to sexual as­sault. In Mis­sis­sippi, stud­ies showed that in­ci­dents of sexual as­sault went up af­ter Ka­t­rina, in part be­cause dis­placed women were made more vul­ner­a­ble by the dis­as­ter. In New Or­leans, an­other side ef­fect of dam­ages to the city’s in­fra­struc­ture was that women ex­pe­ri­enced greater bar­ri­ers to find­ing work be­cause of the lim­ited avail­abil­ity of child­care and af­ford­able hous­ing.

Main­stream news con­sis­tently fo­cuses on the per­ilous fu­ture of a warming planet, in­clud­ing the melt­ing Ross Ice Shelf in West Antarc­tica, which could mean a cat­a­strophic rise in sea lev­els for coastal cities by mid-cen­tury. But there is al­most no ac­knowl­edg­ment of the di­rect im­pact it will have on poor com­mu­ni­ties liv­ing in coastal re­gions. The World Ocean Re­view es­ti­mates that about 1 bil­lion peo­ple live in low-ly­ing coastal ar­eas around the world—many of them in Asia.

As higher ground away from the ocean becomes more prof­itable—as in parts of Mi­ami where sea level is ex­pected to rise two feet in the coming decades—cli­mate gen­tri­fi­ca­tion has led to dis­plac­ing the poor who can­not af­ford to buy the now-cov­eted el­e­vated, safe, dry real es­tate. “Whether it’s cli­mate change or an eye for good real-es­tate re­turns, his­tor­i­cally Black com­mu­ni­ties on higher ground are in­creas­ingly in the sights of spec­u­la­tors and in­vestors,” wrote re­porter Erika Bol­stad for the en­ergy-and-en­vi­ron­ment out­let E&E News in May. “Real es­tate in­vest­ment may no longer be just about the next hot neigh­bor­hood, it may also now be about the next dry neigh­bor­hood.”

And as tem­per­a­tures rise, re­search sug­gests that it is the ur­ban poor who will suf­fer most. The Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and Devel­op­ment (OECD) has stud­ied ex­ten­sively how cli­mate change will con­tinue to com­pound ex­ist­ing poverty and the neg­a­tive im­pact it has had on the health, eco­nomic sta­bil­ity, and qual­ity of life for one bil­lion peo­ple around the world. A June 2003 re­port coau­thored by the OECD ti­tled “Poverty and Cli­mate Change: Re­duc­ing the Vul­ner­a­bil­ity of the Poor through Adap­ta­tion” stated, “A di­rect ef­fect [of cli­mate change] is an in­crease in tem­per­a­tur­ere­lated ill­nesses and deaths. Pro­longed in­tense heat waves cou­pled with hu­mid­ity may in­crease mor­tal­ity and mor­bid­ity rates, par­tic­u­larly among the ur­ban poor and the el­derly.”

In ad­di­tion, a 2015 issue of Sci­en­tific Amer­i­can, quot­ing the World Bank ahead of that yearʼs Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties meet­ing in Paris, noted, “With­out poli­cies to pro­tect the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble from crop fail­ure, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, wa­ter­borne dis­eases and other im­pacts of cli­mate change, 100 mil­lion more peo­ple could sink into poverty by 2030.”

But why should any­one care about what seems like a dis­tant, far-off catas­tro­phe—par­tic­u­larly when de­niers like Stephens sug­gest that it’s bet­ter to have a healthy debate about the mer­its of ac­tual ev­i­dence than to pre­pare for a sci­en­tific re­al­ity?

Ad­verse ef­fects of cli­mate change are di­verse. Dur­ing a visit to West Vir­ginia with for­mer Sec­re­tary of En­ergy Ernest Moniz in the fi­nal months of my job at the En­ergy Depart­ment, he spoke about the ben­e­fits of “clean coal” tech­nol­ogy, or car­bon cap­ture, which al­lows for cap­tur­ing car­bon emis­sions from coal be­fore re­leas­ing them into the at­mos­phere. Sec­re­tary Moniz noted that the clean-en­ergy rev­o­lu­tion was already un­der­way, and he was right. This in­crease in clean coal though, poses a chal­lenge for Trump, who promised to bring back coal jobs lost in the dein­dus­tri­al­iza­tion era of the early 2000s. Not only are those jobs not likely to re­turn, Trump’s Fis­cal Year 2018 bud­get pro­posal plans to sharply de­crease fund­ing for sci­ence re­search and devel­op­ment, and would also elim­i­nate 17,000 jobs for sci­en­tists and en­gi­neers in the process.

Jane Mayer’s ex­cel­lent 2016 book Dark Money: The Hid­den His­tory of the Bil­lion­aires Be­hind the Rise of the Rad­i­cal Right stud­ies the long game of well-known wealthy lib­er­tar­ian fig­ures such as Charles and David Koch, who were some of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s fiercest op­po­nents on a num­ber of is­sues, most no­tably reg­u­la­tory ac­tions on fos­sil fu­els. De­spite bi­par­ti­san sup­port for ac­tion on car­bon emis­sions, Mayer writes: “The prob­lem for this group was that by 2008, the arith­metic of cli­mate change pre­sented an al­most unimag­in­able chal­lenge. If the world were to stay within the range of car­bon emis­sions that sci­en­tists deemed rea­son­able in order for at­mo­spheric tem­per­a­tures to re­main tol­er­a­ble through the mid-cen­tury, 80 per­cent of the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try’s re­serves would have to stay un­used in the ground. In other words, sci­en­tists es­ti­mated that the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try owned roughly five times more oil, gas, and coal than the planet could safely burn.” Be­tween 2005 and 2008, Mayer re­ports that the Koch Broth­ers spent nearly $25 mil­lion fight­ing cli­mate re­form. She presents re­search that es­ti­mates more than half a bil­lion dol­lars was spent to wage a “mas­sive cam­paign to ma­nip­u­late and mis­lead the pub­lic about the threat posed by cli­mate change.” She goes on to ex­plain that this “was, in essence, a cor­po­rate lob­by­ing cam­paign dis­guised as a tax-ex­empt, phil­an­thropic en­deavor” funded by some 140 con­ser­va­tive foun­da­tions.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has pro­moted this agenda by rolling back ef­fi­ciency stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions to make it eas­ier for big busi­nesses to burn as much oil and wreak

It’s not a mat­ter of whether cli­mate change will in­crease the bur­dens and hard­ships of women and the poor around the world, but when; it’s cer­tainly only a mat­ter of time be­fore those bur­dens over­whelm or kill them.

as much havoc on the en­vi­ron­ment for profit as they like. The appointment of Scott Pruitt as Sec­re­tary of the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency is ev­i­dence of a bla­tant ef­fort to im­pede progress—the EPA has stripped its web­site of ev­i­dence and re­search re­lated to cli­mate-change data and is pre­par­ing to lay off im­por­tant re­searchers.

At the heart of cli­mate change de­nial is a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar strat­egy to help rich, white men get richer at the ex­pense of poor women. Hiding, down­play­ing, or eras­ing sci­en­tific data about the re­al­i­ties of cli­mate change em­pow­ers the fos­sil-fuel in­dus­try to un­leash car­bon pol­lut­ing chem­i­cals in the air in the name of boost­ing the econ­omy and jobs. This ac­cel­er­ates our path to a world in which women and their chil­dren must fight drought, nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, dis­place­ment, fur­ther marginal­iza­tion, and hunger.

It is a fal­lacy to claim, as Bret Stephens and the New York Times has, that cli­mat­e­change ev­i­dence is just a col­lec­tion of sto­ries. It’s not a mat­ter of whether cli­mate change will in­crease the bur­dens and hard­ships of women and the poor around the world, but when; it’s cer­tainly only a mat­ter of time be­fore those bur­dens over­whelm or kill them.

Ev­ery sin­gle idea, sen­ti­ment, or sug­ges­tion that cli­mate change may not be as bad as you think flies di­rectly in the face of the ex­pe­ri­ence of sur­vivors of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters that have wors­ened over time. It is to deny the fact that poor peo­ple who live be­low sea level are de­serv­ing of a cli­mate-re­siliency plan as much as their wealth­ier coun­ter­parts in the Pa­cific North­west or the San Fran­cisco Bay Area. It is to have the priv­i­lege of sit­ting on a high perch over­look­ing a horizon with the loom­ing clouds of de­struc­tion rolling in as you write about a in­evitabil­ity from which you will al­most def­i­nitely be im­mune—if not for­ever, at least for as long as money and time will al­low.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.