The truth about climate change is that it's a problem that disproportionately affects the poor. Subsistence farmers, fishermen, and other people who are highly dependent on the earth's natural resources can easily become threatened by sudden environmental change.
Fortunately, over the past year, the World Bank has shifted its focus toward addressing climate change on a global level. This week, the institution announced that it wants to equalize energy access worldwide. It is a relief that the organization, which was created to combat global poverty, is addressing the problematic relationships between countries' poverty levels and their greenhouse gas emission rates.
For some populations, the first step toward equal energy access will involve traditional fossil fuels, says the Bank. While this may seem like a misstep, the impact of such fossil fuel use will be miniscule. Right now, the world's poorest three billion people contribute just 6% of greenhouse gas emissions, compared to 50% for the world's richest 500 million people. Approximately 1.2 billion people currently don't have access to electricity whatsoever, so providing them with the most affordable type of energy is the top priority. The additional emissions from that population would only account for 1% of the global total. Cleaner energy will come later.
That said, it's still essential that we cut back on the global greenhouse gas emission rate. A new report published in Science found that even though the earth has undergone extreme climatic change before, the climate is now changing "orders of magnitude" more quickly than it has at any time in the past 65 million years. That means the cases of extreme weather, biodiversity loss, pest infestations, and influxes of disease we’re currently witnessing are likely to persist — and even worsen.
As Rachel Kyte told the National Journal, failing to react to these types of studies could jeopardize the future of generations to come. “We all agree, whichever way we vote, whichever church, synagogue or mosque we pray in, or if we don't pray at all – we want the next generation to be better off than the current generation,” Kyte said. “The science is showing us that we are putting that in jeopardy every day don't make decisions about clean energy.”
It's time for everyone to stop beating around the bush about facing up to climate change. The World Bank, for one, has realized that. Kyte supports the idea of initiating a carbon tax, as the Chinese government has done.
“If carbon is the problem, which it is … then we should be putting a price on something which is bad,” Kyte said. “And if we put a price on it, one has to wonder, within the economy, how much you want to have an exposure to a commodity which is going to have a significant price to it at some point in the near- to medium-term future.”
When we talk about climate change, we are discussing the future of humankind itself, not the future of one particular breed of political thought. Again, the World Bank is on target here, understanding the need for more global understanding of climate change and its impacts on different populations.
The World Bank’s goal is to close the energy access gap by the year 2030, and it’s following a dualistic strategy. On the one hand, it needs to provide energy to poor nations, initially in the form of coal and other traditional, affordable fossil fuels. In the meantime, it must direct developed nations to establish cleaner methods of consuming energy, thereby paving a way for less-developed countries to catch up once they stabilize.
We can only cope with climate change properly if we step out of the political world long enough to recognize one crucial fact: the future of humankind is exponentially more important than a political party or an economic profit.
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