Why We Don’t Care: On the Imbalanced Effects of Climate Change

Why climate change is overlooked in today’s politics.

By Danilo Zak

[dropcap]E[/dropcap]vidence continues to mount that climate change is no longer a problem of the future. And yet, in a contentious election year in which an issue this important should be brought to the fore, Americans continue to care and do less about our climate than other countries. Terrorism, immigration, and the economy are our most current problems and should hold primacy in our thoughts, in our actions, and in our politics.

Climate change is a global problem as immediate as all others. Record heat, droughts, and other extreme weather across the world should be driving this point home. Even the legendary Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska is facing cancellation and restriction due to unprecedented warmth and lack of snow. So why does the apathy continue?

Perhaps, Americans feel less pressed to act on climate change because they have less at stake.

It has become more and more clear that developing and poorer countries will be most affected by severe climate shifts, rather than the rich ones. The famous Stern review chillingly opined in 2006 that “The most vulnerable – the poorest countries and populations – will suffer earliest and most, even though they have contributed the least.”

Since then, the literature has only grown on how the third world will hurt first and hurt worse due to global climate inaction. A 2010 World Bank report on Development and Climate Change concluded that it will be the poorest countries that will bear the brunt of negative climate effects. The 2016 Global Climate Risk Index showed that the ten countries most at risk of severe and dangerous climate events are all among the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in the world.

And now, in many of these areas, the time for predictions is over. Events currently unfolding in Pakistan might best illuminate how the horror stories foretold by these studies are coming to pass right now.

Pakistan is a developing country with a rich culture, huge coal reserves, and significant glacial cover that provides crucial access to water. Years ago, these factors would have coalesced into considerable promise and optimism for the South Asian nation.

Instead, news from the troubled region revolves primarily around climate disaster.

In only the past year, there have been massive droughts, deadly heat waves, dangerous flash floods, and wide scale power outages throughout Pakistan. Thousands have died, millions have been displaced, and any hope for development has been utterly stymied. The glacial cover that used to provide water is vanishing. All the coal that could be providing power and promoting industry is left untapped, as international greenhouse regulations limit investments in new coal-fired energy plants. Pakistan, a country responsible for less than one percent of Global Greenhouse gas emissions, is currently bearing the absolute brunt of climate change.

In 2015, Pew Research reported that Pakistan joined a list of 19 countries in which a majority of the population views climate change as the top global threat. The United States is not on that list. Canada is not on that list. France, England,  and Germany are not on that list. Neither are China, Australia, South Korea, or Japan. Not a single developed country seems to view climate change as a serious problem.

So we in the developed world spend the year burning a billion tons of coal, producing two billion tons of CO2, responsible for almost half of our energy use, all so we in the US can turn on the TV and watch politicians fight over who can build the biggest wall or who can kill the most extremists.  We use political clout to prevent countries like Pakistan from using their own coal reserves, telling ourselves we are doing our part to prevent climate change, telling ourselves that other issues are more important to us right now.

Americans just cannot bring themselves to care enough about the climate to change their own energy consumption, even as people in more vulnerable areas across the world are in serious danger. Perhaps the first world will change its energy habits once it is in danger, but what has happened in Pakistan demonstrates that the developing world is already reeling from disastrous climate change effects. The apathy shown by America and other less affected countries has now become actively harmful to more vulnerable populations, as we are refusing to treat an international crisis as the emergency that it is.


Danilo is a sophomore in Silliman College. You can contact him at danilo.zak@yale.edu.