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The Poverty tan line

We all know about climate change and the ongoing debate about who is responsible, and what is natural. The thing we tend to focus so much on is “how will this effect us?” What we are failing to pay attention to is what will happen to the poorer nations. While some of us want to know the predicted effects on our coasts and wildlife, we are forgetting what will happen to places which already suffer climate problems. wing.jpg

As the world “warms up” the tropics will steadily grow inhabitable. The “tan line” which divides the deserts from the tropics is growing and shifting. With climate change, we are seeing these deserts encroaching on the tropics, expanding its boarders both North and South (represented by the red lines). The green circles represent the world’s most bioproductive areas. Not only do these lands provide the world with the majority of it’s food (such as fruit, fish, but also medicines) but it is also home to many of the world’s poorest countries. If we lose these areas (as we are currently on track to doing) there will be a global impact for which we are to blame. Here are a few of the problems this may cause:

  • Countries already facing climate problems such as Sudan, Somalia, and Ethiopia will have extreme problems. Food shortages will stretch across boarders.
  • Wars over water (both for drinking and irrigation): When Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat signed the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, he declared that Egypt will never go to war again, expect to protect it’s water resources. (A bold statement for a country at the mouth of the Nile. A river that feeds many countries before it reaches Egypt)
  • Mass migration

I marked “mass migration” because that is one of the impacts that will effect us most heavily. With the current rate of climate change, the tropics will become uninhabitable and countries in central Africa will have severe drought. On the other end of the spectrum, many low lying areas will be flooded by sea level rise. In places like Indonesia where most of the population lives on the coast where their lives depend on the sea, and countries like Bangladesh where the whole country is hardly above sea level, this is a great threat. The BBC reported in 2000 on the IPCC report (International Panel on Climate Change) which predicted that 17.5% of Bangladesh will be flooded. In Response to this the Bangladeshi Environment Minister said:

“Approximately 20 million people (possible 50million) will become ecological refugees. Where shall we move such a huge population? It’s an incredible task. People will try to move into upland areas. But there is not enough space to accommodate them. So I would request the developed countries of the world to rethink their immigration policies, for the survival of refugees from various small island states and low-lying coastal states like Bangladesh.”

When asked what countries she had in mind, she stated “America and other big countries; Britain and Europe”

Bangladesh is just one example of a country whose population will be forced to move due to sea level rise (see BBC 2006 story). Other places may suffer drought.

So what has this got to do with us? and what has this got to do with poverty? Essentially its our lifestyles which are to blame for climate change. The West is paranoid about “equality” and “equal rights” within their own countries, however we exploit on an international scale. This inequality damages the environment too. The diagram below explains:


Our lifestyles exploit both people and the environment. Climate change leads to less bioproductive land, while the poorest nations of the world increase their populations. This in turn leads links with the loss of bioproductive lands, in the poorest areas of the globe. So combined with the loss of land, and the increase in population, the West will face a major problem.

The problem is (whether we like it or not) if we don’t deal with Climate change, and poverty now; both will come to us. We need to be prepared to deal with the flow of people that will be coming our way. These won’t be like the economical immigrants we have today. These will be environmental refugees and “sending them home” will no longer be an option. We need to create a sustainable environment for them to come to, one that can support both them, and ourselves. For that, as mentioned before, we need to take from ourselves and give to the poor. The climate we create will determine their futures as well as ours.

Further reading: here for general information or here for information on water issues

Here for the IPCC website.


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