Humans Rights and Climate Change: Why the Battle for a Livable Planet Is Also a Social Issue

By Dr. Robert Holcomb MD, Ph.D., Inventor and Co-Founder of Holcomb Energy System


The warnings are undeniable: We have until 2030 to dramatically reduce carbon emissions before there’s no turning back. At first glance we may see this as a unified, global call to action — and it most certainly is — but the brutal reality is that we will not equally suffer the devastating effects of climate change. The defining factor is not geographic location, but economic standing. No place is safe — the majority of the planet is already experiencing the effects of climate change. But one’s economic status will be a determinative factor in how the storms will be weathered and if survival is even possible.

Right now, many places in the world are suffering through sweltering heat waves. Texas, India and Pakistan are experiencing record breaking temperatures past 112 degrees Fahrenheit. Last summer, western North America was hit with a heat wave lasting months, in which 1400 people died and damages reached $8.9 billion. An analysis found this ‘1000 year weather event’ was made 150 times more likely by rising global temperatures. The leading cause of death? Lack of money. Although the majority of the people who died had air conditioning, they simply could not afford it over this extended period of time. In the wealthiest nation of the world, lives were lost not due to access to electricity, but the means to afford it. What does this mean for the millions of families around the world without access to electricity? This past month in Pakistan and India the death toll has reached 90 people in two months from a severe heatwave. The scorching heat led officials to close schools and issue stay at home advisories. In India, where just 12% of the population has access to A/C, the human tragedies are manifest and growing rapidly.

This week the Climate Impact Lab, a research team dedicated to studying the relationship between climate, economy, and mortality, released its findings. Predictions are that the global annual mortality rate from climate change will be as high as 73 deaths per 100,000 people within the next 50 years. When income inequality is factored in, projected mortality rates continue to rise with each passing year, to over 200 deaths per 100,000 people by 2100. The hopeful news: These numbers could be slashed by nearly 60% with widespread, sustained economic development.

Current models predict nearly three-quarters of the world will experience higher mortality rates due to rising temperatures. The majority will be found predominantly in low income areas, especially those in Africa, South America, India, and the Middle East. Mortality rates will vary greatly around the globe as some countries will be able to afford health and safety measures such as air conditioning and access to clean water and medical care, while many will suffer without. This model illustrates a sad truth: Economic inequality will shape the reverberations of climate change.

Lowering carbon emissions and preventing further environmental impacts of climate change will not be enough to protect the lives of every human being on the planet from the devastating effects of climate change. We must also offer solutions to the grinding poverty faced by so many. How can we ensure that everyone has access to clean, affordable electricity including air conditioning to survive increasingly hot summers and reliable heat throughout colder winters?

Current models predict up to 130 million people will be forced into poverty by the climate crisis over the next 10 years. By 2050 we can expect to see hundreds of millions of people migrating to escape the fallout of a rapidly changing climate. This increase in poverty will only be exacerbated by climate-caused food and clean water shortages.

It’s a devastating truth that climate change is the great equalizer. There is no place to run or hide to escape the effects of climate change. Our decades-old dependence on fossil fuels, ubiquitous throughout the developed world, has delivered us to this position. But sadly, those who contributed the most to this crisis will experience the least of its cataclysmic effects.

At Holcomb Energy Systems, we believe that it’s not enough to stop climate change in its tracks. We must also lift up those who are most vulnerable. To ensure a decent and humane existence on this tiny planet we call home, it is a matter of universal survival and justice to develop a more equitable economy for every person on the planet. We are all in this together.

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