Climate Change and Poverty

In an article by Nicholas Stern and Trevor Manuel on financing the transformation of the world economy to a low-carbon one I found a very important sentence:

The two defining challenges of our time are managing climate change and overcoming world poverty. We cannot succeed on one without succeeding on the other.

The second part of the quotation is which I would like to write some words about. Actually, the causal links are straightforward. But nevertheless, sometimes things that are straightforward must be expressed explicitly to be recognized as such.

The question here is about mitigation of and adaptation to climate change.

Should global warming proceed in the way anticipated by scientists and without extra mitigation, poor countries will be hit much more than rich ones. The main reason is that most poor countries are in the tropics or subtropics (the UN identifies 49 Least Developed Countries – all of them are in Africa, South Asia, Oceania or the Caribbean), where the effects of global warming, especially the short to mid term ones, will be most dramatic. Although the temperatures are expected to rise more the nearer to the poles, subtropics and tropics remain very vulnerable because of the relative instability of their ecosystems. A slight change in, e.g., precipitation could cause huge damages. They also are much more exposed to extreme weather events. Furthermore, just because poor countries are already poor, a similar change in wealth/income (in absolute terms) would hit them much more than it is the case for the rich part of the world. Thus, you can’t combat poverty without dealing with climate change (i.e., without trying to mitigate it), because consequences of the latter would deepen poverty heavily.

In the opposite direction the problem lies mainly in the field of adaptation to climate change. It is a sad fact that we are not able to undo every damage already caused by emitting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Even if we stopped emissions now, there would be further warming (with all related consequences) because of the “inertia” of the climate system. All we can do through mitigation is to minimize these consequences. And thus we need to adopt to those changes in the natural systems that are sure to come. This will be costly: coastal protection must be built or expanded, agriculture must be redeveloped, water storage systems must be built and so on. Poor countries cannot do it on their own – they just haven’t the resources needed. And their citizens have not the means either, what might be even more important because centralized adaptation only (building dams, e.g.) will not be enough. People must be able to cope with the effects of global warming on the micro-level (e.g., buying more resistant crops, building own water storage, perhaps in some cases moving away from most vulnerable areas). It is therefore straightforward that we cannot successfully combat the consequences of climate change without alleviating poverty at the same time.

As one can see, poverty and climate change are closely interconnected. It is time to see them as one issue – something many politicians seem not to have grasped yet.

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16 thoughts on “Climate Change and Poverty

  1. Well, at least you’re honest. You admit that the Warmists are really Socialists who seek to rob from the productive to give to the less so. Keep trying all you want but we free peoples of the Earth will see your corpses and those of your kin and those of all you love and support rotting in the landfills unshriven before we bow down before your agenda.

  2. I just read the About of your blog and, what can I say? I guess, our moral systems are thus different that any discussion is completely useless. All I can do is to thank you: normally my blog doesn’t get much attention, so your comment is very valuable for me;-)

    I wouldn’t call myself a Socialist. I wouldn’t call you a Fascist just because your opinion is “from the right”, too. Don’t you think it is too easy to say “You rotten Warmists [it’s a term I didn’t know yet, thanks for broadening my horizon] and Socialists” (of course, it is not exactly what you said, but I think you agree on this formulation) and thus to hope to reach a higher moral position?

  3. One thing yet: what does “to rob from the productive to give to the less so” mean? Do you really think, people in Africa are poor because they are lazy, stupid or whatever (and thus less productive)? And: is productivity the only one thing that counts? Are we machines which simple goal is to produce more and better? In my understanding, there are other contributions to society that are much more important than those you can measure by “productivity”.

  4. Yes, people in Africa are poor because they are lazy, stupid or whatever – though that’s a horrid oversimplification. And yes again, we are machines insofar as we consume and produce and must do so efficiently enough to support our own existence – again though, that’s a horrid oversimplification. And finally, your understanding is abominably flawed; there are NO other contributions to society that are much more important than those you can measure by “productivity” in the context of relieving poverty, which was the context of your post.

  5. I think, it’s you who doesn’t understand something. First: poverty is not only about money. Second: even if it was, refusing to help the poor just because they are not productive enough to live valuable lives implicitly means that they are worth less (and thus, the fact whether they remain poor or not, doesn’t matter) than others only because of the question of productivity. And one more thing: when you write that something is a horrid oversimplification, you perhaps should write as well, why.

    And: no, people in Africa are not poor because they are lazy, stupid or whatever. Not all of them, not even the majority. The reasons are far more complex, and include inter alia: colonialism, natural endowments, climate…

    No, we are not machines consuming and producing to support our existence. Not in the developed world. What we are doing is mainly consuming and producing for its own sake – and that’s a difference. A huge one.

  6. Poverty is nothing other than the lack of wealth, though you are correct in implying that money is necessarily the measure of wealth. colonialism, natural endowments, climate, etc are inter alia but not excuses, especially “colonialism” which ended a century ago. African will have to find means of adapting to those conditions and they need to find those ways on their own. We certainly can’t help them, as decades of trying has sadly proven.

    Name one underlying cause of poverty that the Africans could fix, overcome, ameliorate, or adapt to on their own and without outside “aid” if they truly chose to do and were willing to to take the steps to do so.

  7. 1. Colonialism ended in the most parts of Africa in the 60-ies, in some countries even later (80-ies). And there are many burdens due to colonialist past that aren’t as easy to remove that you could do it in even half a century (e.g. the artificial borders causing repeated conflicts).

    2. I don’t know whether there is “one underlying cause of poverty that the Africans could fix, overcome, ameliorate, or adapt to on their own and without outside “aid” if they truly chose to do and were willing to to take the steps to do so” – and exactly that is the problem and the reason why I think we should help them.

    3. “We certainly can’t help them, as decades of trying has sadly proven.” – I would argue that the decades were full of flawed ideas how to help Africa, and that is the second problem. Dumping food on their markets, e.g., by which we have already destroyed much of their agriculture.

  8. LOL

    I just “love” making typos and then missing them in my proof reading of my comment. What I meant to say was:

    Name one underlying cause of poverty that the Africans couldn’t fix, overcome, ameliorate, or adapt to on their own and without outside “aid” if they truly chose to do and were willing to to take the steps to do so.

    But, Colonialism may have ended on paper between the ’60s and the ’80s but had de facto ended much earlier with African governments having essentially full self rule and few remaining European settlers having loyalties to their home nations as opposed to their European root nations.

  9. About the question of when Colonialism ended we could discuss for a long time. But since it is a question of definitions, I would prefer not to do it.

    Africans cannot fix on their own problems caused by us. I already mentioned dumping subsidized food on their markets. I could mention global warming, but since you seem not to recognize that there is any… I could mention us extracting the natural resources and destroying the environment of African countries (oil and gas in Nigeria, uranium in Niger and Angola…). I could mention land grabbing (though here China and South Korea are more a problem than Europe, US etc.).

    Furthermore, there is the problem that to improve your well-being on your own, you first have to pass a certain threshold – and for that you need help.

    And one more thing (I perhaps shouldn’t mention it, because it is not a blog about ethics, but who cares;-): altruism. If they seem to need help, just give it to them. We are rich. Too rich, I would say, but that’s again a question of ethics more than facts. We have the possibility to help the poor. So why shouldn’t we? Finally, it is altruism that makes us humane (surely not the only factor, but an important one, I would argue).

  10. “Africans cannot fix on their own problems caused by us.” Can’t they? Why think of them so poorly at an intrinsic and uncorrectable level? That’s not just lowered expectations; that’s imposing a limit upon them.

    Subsidized Food – Ethiopia realized that problem and largely stopped accepting it due to the problems it caused. Other nations could do the same.

    Resource Extraction – That’s actually done by the Africans themselves – on paper at least. There’s no good reason why they couldn’t improve the development contracts; other nations have regularly done so and adjusted royalty rates and fees to serve their own economies.

    Land Grabbing – Hmmm….first you’ll have to show me where such imperialist practices are still going on. That’s not a disputation; I just don’t know of any off the top of my head.

    As for altruism or the “feel good about one’s self gimmick” – I’m all for it as long as it’s voluntary. The Warmists want it forced upon people by fiat though, which isn’t altruism anymore.

  11. Land grabbing: here a map from the Economist.

    Subsidized food: just imposing new duties etc. mostly isn’t possible for these countries since they are members of the WTO.

    Natural resources: the problem is already here, and just to expropriate the companies dealing with the extraction would be a political suicide.

  12. Most of the “land grab” listing in your source look more like simple trade deals. Do you really think offering a contract for a fixed amount of a product is a land grab? Which is not to say that those contracts are a good thing, but that’s a different topic. Or am I just missing something?

    They don’t have to bind themselves to the WTO or its ruling. Plenty of nations don’t bother to do so.

    I wasn’t talking about nationalizing the resource extraction companies, though Venezuela hasn’t suffered politically too much from doing that nor has Saudi or many other nations. I was talking about renegotiating the contracts to provide more wealth to the countries with the resources.

  13. Of course, what is called “farmland grabbing” are simple trade deals. The problem is that they are harmful to the local communities and benefit countries far abroad. In some way it is a point for you – the problem are, inter alia, African politicians ready to sell the lands. But if they wouldn’t get offers, there wouldn’t be such deals, on the other hand.

    They don’t have to bind themselves to the WTO or its ruling.

    Great idea… Would it be possible and not, as I already mentioned, political suicide, it would solve the problem. The Saudis are a special case, Venezuela as well. The former, because they have huge amounts of oil to sell (and are therefore “holy cows”), the latter, because they get help from Russia, e.g. Do you really think, Nigeria could do it as well? Of course, a part of the problem are the local political so called “elites”. But if we wouldn’t give them opportunity to fraud, it would be easier for them not to take it.

  14. You do realize that your last reply called for what is essentially amounts to a form of “indirect colonialism” where the Developed World acts as a “caretaker” for those “poor, benighted Africans who can’t help themselves.” If we don’t allow them to make mistakes and/or fail…

    As for political suicide – that would imply that they weren’t already dead in the water politically speaking and that political standing was more important than the survival and prosperity of their people. This goes back to the “if they truly chose to do and were willing to to take the steps to do so” part of my comment.

  15. I don’t want to say we shouldn’t allow them to make any mistakes. But we could help them to make less, at least. And actually: why not? Is it bad to consider the negative aspects of one’s doings? That is what I’m calling for, in the end.

    Political suicide is in this case economic suicide at the same time. You should know what happens to countries that break WTO rules (not even the US is able to do it for a longer time span).

    Can we end this discussion? It is pointless and becomes silly.

  16. Finally I advise both of you the book “Global Brutal” by Michael Chossudovsky. It shows the methods of the WTO, IMF and the Worldbank to recolonize the 3rd world and prevent them to increase their prosperity. I think that is the maincause of poverty and if we wants to change this situation we have to break the power of this institutions. But do we really know what impacts it would be for our wealth?

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