What Has Poverty Got To Do With Climate Change?

CHERYL LYON – Our economic system creates poverty

Our current economy is based on oil (cheap energy), a global market for endless growth and consumption, and maximization of profits at all costs. Huge corporations control all aspects of employment and production, taking locally-generated wealth out of every community every day and sending it to HQs and unknown shareholders, leaving little to re-circulate among smaller local businesses. Government aid to corporations and the price of energy create a precarious financial situation for every economy. Such a system gives us: 

– un/underemployment 

– local community vulnerability to the shaky global financing underpinning the economy 

– marginalization of people who would otherwise be able to contribute to community wellbeing 

– the 99%/1%  income gap which is a recipe for a community’s social unraveling – the very “exhaustion and combustion” (Wendell Berry) of natural resources needed to keep the economy going. 

That same economic system is making climate change impacts worse 

There is now no argument that the fossil fuel energy that powers our globalized economy is causing severe weather (droughts, floods etc.), polar ice loss, and rising temperature of the planet. Those fossil fuels (oil, coal, natural gas) have given us incredible affluence unevenly, unjustly distributed, and made our murderous economic system possible. More and more public money, including in  municipal taxes, will have to go to weather disaster insurance, preparation, clean up and recovery. Our local economy is already directly affected by slowdowns and profit-taking in the global economy (layoffs, higher unemployment, company moves to find lower labour costs etc.) 

Those impacts disproportionately affect under-resourced (low-income) and marginalized people

So-called “poor” people may have less resilience i.e. ability to prepare for, respond to and recover from climate disasters. Flooding and heat waves worsen already unacceptable conditions of people living in sub-standard housing with higher energy costs, overheating (especially on top floors), indoor air pollution and flood damage (especially basement flats), who are poorly nourished, have no family or other social supports, no savings, no ability to travel to a safer place. The persistent problem of low income households’ access to food is worsened by food supply shortages and interruptions caused by prolonged bad weather. Low prices made possible by the global economic model keep marginal households from benefiting from attempts to create  a better local economy e.g. farmers markets, buy local campaigns. “Price” becomes the ultimate value-setter. 

The modern  market  economy fractures communities into haves and have-nots, increases waiting lists for housing that is affordable to the lowest incomes,  makes homeless shelters and food banks permanent, and employment insecure. Food prices are rising faster than incomes of those on social assistance, pension or minimum wage. Inclusion in localized, communal efforts to cope with climate change are hampered by preoccupation with precarious daily existence and lack of access to places and resources for coming together and organizing and sharing  their many adaptive skills. The Climate Crisis will be long but we CAN adapt to it and still be a thriving community that includes ALL income levels. 

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