Climate Primer #33: Impacts of Climate Crisis – 16. Rural Threats and Deepening Poverty

To summarize, climate crisis is the defining issue of the century. Buildup of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Earth’s atmosphere is driving global heating, while a convergence of global crises threatens to rupture key planetary boundaries. Although the human activities which drive these converging crises (for simplicity: the climate crisis) are diverse and complex, the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) breaks down the sources of anthropogenic GHG emissions into five high-level sectors. Similarly, the impacts of climate crisis – in their variety and complexity – are almost impossible for an individual to grasp, but so far, this sub-series has covered: global heating, Arctic amplification, heat waves, droughts and floods, disruption of oceanic and atmospheric patterns, cryosphere collapse, declining oceanic dissolved oxygen content, sea level rise, fisheries collapse, coral reef die-offs, deforestation, water scarcity, food insecurity, deteriorating health, and urban threats. In the absence of dramatic global climate action this decade, climate crisis will likely spiral out of control, rupturing key planetary boundaries and endangering the future of organized human life on Earth.

Just as posts before the most recent had already addressed many climate crisis-driven threats to urban centers, so too have many previous posts already outlined phenomena that threaten rural communities around the globe – phenomena which AR5 glosses as follows:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 69)

Taken together, these multi-faceted threats to urban and rural communities globally are very likely to cause radical deterioration in the quality of life of billions of people, with the poor and socially marginalized at greatest risk of losing livelihoods, shelter, access to education, etc., etc. In this sense, the COVID-19 pandemic – with its rolling social, economic, and political impacts – can be seen as a modest dress rehearsal of what climate crisis may bring, even in optimistic scenarios, as class divisions are exacerbated and the world’s poor suffer disproportionate harm from catastrophe. In short, progress towards the the reduction of poverty (itself, often enough, a specious artifact of arbitrary definitions set by multilateral agencies) is likely to be reversed. Here’s another AR5 excerpt:

Source: AR5 of the IPCC (page 73)

Giving myself permission to briefly editorialize, I fear that – in spite of all the numbing Hollywood disaster films and sensationalized news coverage of recent decades regarding (climate) apocalypse – few of us are prepared for the scope, scale, speed, intensity, and duration of trauma that is already largely “baked in” to our future. What is happening now on the west coast of the US (and in the Amazon, where the fires are as bad or worse as they were last year), what happened last winter in Australia – these are obviously not anomalous events, or once-in-a-century occurrences, but they are also not a culmination so much as they are a new beginning: The dawning of a very frightening era on planet Earth. The collective loss we stand to suffer – which, again, will be unevenly distributed in the extreme – is quite hard, and overwhelmingly sad, to comprehend, and yet, part of our task today is to understand what is more or less inevitable so we can avert what remains avertable of the harm. In a US context, Miami, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and perhaps even Los Angeles are not likely to thrive beyond the middle of this century as, variously, megadroughts, megastorms, floods, rising temperatures, rising sea levels, fires, heatwaves, infectious disease, toxic contamination, and extreme water shortages increasingly undercut the appeal of “the Sun Belt” – leaving some places increasingly unlivable, while making others simply unpleasant – in the process making obvious what always should have been clear: That building major population centers in the middle of deserts or in coastal floodplains subject to regular tropical storms is not a good idea. New York, and the Northeast broadly, may enjoy a longer grace period as the effects of climate crisis intensify, but it’s hard to imagine that the corridor from DC to Boston won’t likewise face existential challenges by the end of this century.

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