The recent presidential debates have touched on the issue of climate change quite a few times. I think there is a lot of social injustice involved in the impending ramifications of how we as a people have treated the earth.
Most of the world is not yet feeling big social consequences of climate change. Very small islands in the South Pacific are starting to disappear but for most of the world, the current effects of climate change are more inconvenient than tragic. Americans were affected by record snow in New England last year, are currently being affected by an ongoing severe drought in California, and something close to home, the state of Colorado was affected by the 2013 “500 year” flood. To the average person, these extreme circumstances seem like the effects of climate change. However, these conditions are minor compared to some scenarios that are predicted. One predicted catastrophe is a massive rise in sea levels. Some scientists theorize a worst-case scenario of a 200 foot rise in sea levels; this could threaten many coastal cities around the world, including New York and Tokyo.
Once these bigger environmental events start to occur, the rich countries will have many more options than the poor countries. Not everyone will be able to deal with the repercussions caused by the world as a whole neglecting the environment. If the coasts were to flood rich countries could react. People could be relocated, dams could be built, new housing could be developed; there would be ways to continue living. If fresh water ran low on a global scale, rich countries would be able to purchase water, or invest in new technologies for water purification; they would be able to afford alternatives. If the there was a shortage of oil, rich countries would create green alternatives like wind and solar energy; there would be other ways to create power. For poor countries, none of these solutions would be available, they would just have to live with the mess created.
This discrepancy is particularly unfair because it is the rich countries that are causing the change in the first place. Factories and drilling and other elements of industry contribute greatly to climate change, and the vast majority of pollution comes from wealthy countries. Poorer countries in the world will have to pay the cost for this when they are unable to cope with all the environmental changes. I see this as a social problem because it ultimately affects people’s basic human rights, like food and shelter. This is deplorable because the rich countries cause the problem and don’t suffer the consequences as deeply, but poor countries are less to blame and are put in grave circumstances.
This is truly unjust because it’s the rich countries are the ones causing a lot of the pollution in the first place. It is unfair that the people who caused the problem will be able to deal with it and the the people who might not even know it’s happening will be affected the most. Because the environmental consequences can be so dire, the externalities are not just economic, but are social too.