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How are the poor impacted by climate change?

What the science says...

Those who contribute the least greenhouse gases will be most impacted by climate change.

Climate Myth...

CO2 limits will hurt the poor

"Legally mandated measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions are likely to have significant adverse impacts on GDP growth of developing countries, including India." (Pradipto Ghosh, as quoted by Associated Press)

The central question of climate change is, How will it affect humanity? This question can be examined by estimating which regions are most vulnerable to future climate change (Samson et al 2011). The researchers then compared the global map of climate vulnerability to a global map of carbon dioxide emissions. The disturbing finding was that the countries that have contributed the least to carbon dioxide emissions are the same regions that will be most affected by the impacts of climate change.

To estimate the impact of climate change on people, James Samson and his co-authors developed a new metric called Climate Demography Vulnerability Index (CDVI). This takes into account how regional climate will change as well as how much local population is expected to grow. They incorporated this index into a global map and found highly vulnerable regions included central South America, the Middle East and both eastern and southern Africa. Less vulnerable regions were largely in the northern part of the Northern Hemisphere.

Figure 1: Global Climate Demography Vulnerability Index. Red corresponds to more vulnerable regions, blue to less vulnerable regions. White areas corresponds to regions with little or no population (Samson et al 2011).

Next, they created a map of national carbon dioxide emissions per capita. They found the countries most severely impacted by climate change contributed the least to greenhouse gas emissions. It is quite striking that blue, less-polluting regions in the CO2 emissions map correspond to the red, highly vulnerable areas in the vulnerability map.

Figure 2: National average per capita CO2 emissions based on OECD/IEA 2006 national CO2 emissions (OECD/IEA, 2008)  and UNPD 2006 national population size (UNPD, 2007).

The study didn't delve into the question of which countries are least able to adapt to the impacts of climate change. But it doesn't take a great leap of the imagination to surmise that the poor, developing countries that emit the least pollution are also those with the least amount of infrastructure to deal with climate impacts. So we are left with a double irony - the countries that contribute least to global warming are both the most impacted and the least able to adapt.

This research put into perspective those who try to delay climate action, arguing that "CO2 limits will hurt the poor". This argument is usually code for "rich, developed countries should be able to pollute as much as they like". This presents us with a moral hazard. If those who are emitting the most greenhouse gas are the least affected by direct global warming impacts, how shall we motivate them to change?

Basic rebuttal written by John Cook

Update August 2015:

Here is a related lecture-video from Denial101x - Making Sense of Climate Science Denial


Last updated on 5 August 2015 by MichaelK. View Archives

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Comments 76 to 84 out of 84:

  1. "The main point is that the land loss will include a great amount of fertile farming land, including the particularly productive river delta regions." 

    "And gradual worsening & lengthening of heat waves in India and the Middle East and Central Africa." Eclectic

    Do you have a source for that? I wish to improve my arguments and I don't think linking to say BBC is the best choice. The part about losing fertile soil worries me because people still die of starvation in the world. 

    Mostly the deniers use the myth of climate change is overblown and climate change solutions are super expensive. Which to be fair, I was reading that some solutions are infeasible Weekly Roundup.

    The denizens are mostly atheists, so that is some common ground we have that lets me tailor the message.  I could also use some advice for keeping it all organized. I hate it when I loose track of a really good source or argument.

  2. PollutionMonster , much of what you wish to learn can be found here on the SkS  website ~ you can educate yourself by reading various of the Climate Myths (see top of page).   In addition, you can use the Search box (top of page).

    In addition, you can use your knowledge of basic geography, and your common sense will tell you what happens as sea-level rises (including salination of low-lying land by storm surges).   And as the tropics get hotter (even 1 degreeC average rise does produce bursts of even hotter weather, to the severe detriment of crops / animals / humans).

    The lands in Northern Canada & Siberia will (eventually) benefit from warming.  But much of that area has poor quality soil . . . and there is the whole cost of establishing new infrastructure, and a host of other problems.   Much cheaper to halt the rises in CO2.

  3. PollutionMonster, I think that people looking at an unknown reality have two modes of thought:
    1/ Think like a scientist - "I wonder what the answer is".
    2/ Think like a lawyer - "Defend my preferred position and convince the jury".

    I rather think that our evolution as social animals has made mode-2 our normal default. Furthermore, even when in mode-1, we slide into mode-2 as soon as we latch onto a promising hypothesis. The process of scientific discovery with its protocols and peer-review are an imperfect way to try and counteract this. All of us are running on flawed hardware.
    You are arguing with people in mode-2 and they perceive your responses as mode-2 type arguments even when they are not. I doubt you will make any impression at all. When someone is vested in a position, particularly one that is motivated by their values, then they will not give ground easily. At best, you might convince unvested bystanders and unless there are in fact bystanders then arguing is pointless. Pretty much what Skepsci does.

    If you are arguing with someone with whom you have a long term relationship, then you have hope, and it depends on shifting thinking modes. You need to begin with discussing how you come by your beliefs and how you use evidence to change them. Warning - most people are not in the habit of changing their beliefs.

    So beliefs - these are our mental map of what reality is like. I think you can convince most people the Litany of Tarsky is desirable.

    ie If X is true, then I desire to believe that X is true. If X is not true, then I desire to believe that X is not true

    In reality many will find that a challenge too when it comes close to the bone.

    The tricky bit is how to form accurate beliefs. Ideally we do this with Bayesian reasoning but a necessary first step is to start thinking about beliefs in terms of probability. Eg I am 99% sure that the globe is warming. Can never be 1 or 0. Then it comes down to doing thinking about rules of evidence – what observations are predicted by one hypothesis but are not consistent with alternative hypotheses. This kind of thinking takes practise and someone interested in improving their mapping of reality needs to start on things they are not vested in (eg prediction markets) before tackling it on difficult beliefs that strongly attached to values. Hence the need for a long term relationship. Good luck.

  4. scaddenp @78.

    First, I want to say I agree with everything you said, except I am not sure what Skepsci is. As for relationships I am highly socially isolated, introverted, or socially akward. I am not sure which, because I desire more close friends and family, but I always seem so overwhelmed all the time I can't seem to make any time for them.

    The few friends I have I am afraid to talk to them about these issues because I might chase them away.

    I am fairly strong in critical thinking, logic and science, I would say at least above average. Though weak in relationships.

    I'll give an example, during the heigth of the pandemic I went online way more and make some sort of online friends. Only to lose them when I accidentally said something mildly racist, despite profusely apologizing. Many of my online friends turned enemy and or blocked me. For someone as socially akward as me this is a nightmare, I don't normally let people in.

    This has left me sore and relucentant to form new relationships. The messed up part is I am still unsure who was correct. Afterall many liberals are against poltical correctness and are tolerant of the occasional accidentally mildly racist comment. Furthermore, I see obvertly racist comments on other websites all the time, much worse than anything I said. I mean if I was 100% sure I did something wrong, I could learn from my mistakes, but what I am supposed to learn from that experience?

    There is an Atlanic Article The Atlantic Babel that talks about the fragmation of America and the Internet. Seems every website has its own hidden rules and taboos that a person doesn't know about until they break one. On one website it is normal to debate religion, on another it is taboo.

    So, the entire part about a long term relationship seems really difficult for me. Yet, I also agree entirely that is easier to get through to people you have a long term relationship. Finding common ground seems more and more difficult. To give another example, I was part of the new atheist movement and most of us viewed ourselves as liberal. Now my friends are Christian, Wiccan, Buddist. Despite, all being raised as Christians.

    I heard person A were blocking person B because person B was a libertarian. Everything seems so fragmented into various micro-tribes and cultures. Much more than just simply polarization.

  5. Well Skepsci- this site - puts its mission statement at the top "Explaining climate change science & rebutting global warming misinformation".

    But in terms of discussion, I dont think we would have changed the mind of a single hardened denier. It more about provide protection from misinformation and informing those who haven't taken a ideological position. I think bystanders quickly see who has the facts in discussions here.

    In relationships, when someone comes up with a statement about something that you are pretty sure is wrong, then the appropriate response is "That's interesting, why do you believe that?". Ie what has informed your prior. And a zillion non-confrontational followup questions to understand it. If it is a value-based belief, then directly going to countering facts is probably going to antagonize. You have to think first about what line of retreat they might have that doesnt run counter to their values. And that needs a lot of active listening from you to understand where they are coming from first. I think you can see why that doesnt really work in blog conversations and why relationship is important.

    Of course, all of us have false beliefs I think. When challenged yourself about something, taking a moment to think about your own lines of retreat can help in not falling into Mode-2 thinking.

  6. scaddenp @80

    Thank you for the informative post. This sounds a lot like street epistmology. Have you ever heard of Anthony Magnabosco? I've tried your techinque with friends over email didn't work too well. Either feast or famine. Would go silent or flood me with way too much words.

    I tried with some deniers and some replied to my questions "if your too stupid to figure it out yourself I am not gonna tell you." I did seem to have success with strangers that believed in Qanon using street epistmology. 

  7. Nope, never heard of him. But I would iterate that most people do not change their minds, especially if position tied to values. Unless you have ongoing discussion with mutual respect, then I think you are wasting your time. However, on public forums, there is a bystander audience and reasonable to assume that they will not all be vested. Pushing the facts won't convince a denier, but challenging misinformation can help prevent it spreading.

    Email for discussion with friends has plus and minuses. The plus is time to think about what and how you say things. Everything else is minus. Remember that changing a friends mind is not as important as maintaining friendship. Also that in active discussions, mode-2 responses are what you will both be using and no one is likely to back down in the heat of battle. Some days or weeks or months later however, the nagging doubts might prompt a re-examination of beliefs. That is why ongoing respectful contact is important.

    Oh never even try to change a persons value system. Some evidence I think that it is baked in at genetic level.

  8. I agree about the mode two. I am guilty of not being able to change my mind in the heat of battle. Even 48 hours cooldown can help a lot.

    I am having trouble in online debate with that I go out of my way to be respectful and the other person does the opposite. Oddly, I've found I can learn from a denier. Sounds silly, but I get my facts mixed up and sometimes just having someone, anyone to talk to even a troll can help. That forming an argument helps me synthesize and process data into information, as opposed to just passive reading or watching videos.

    As for values, I think some may be genetic. Others is circumstances. For example, I have lived around lower class my entire life. Sometimes below the poverty line, other times barely middle class. Therefore, the economics of climate change interest me more.

    If someone was to say sea level to rise 1 meter over the next century that isn't going to affect me much. While I do care about other people, if I am locked into short term thinking, how do I pay to get gas and my car fixed so I don't lose my job? The long term effects of climate change are lost on me.

    In brief, I care most about how climate change affects me in the past and present, then how it effects me in the future. So part of the reason I struggle so much is that there is 20% more heavy rain in my area. The last thing my location needs is more rain.

    Another example of values, is people might value the free market economy based upon how they were taught and life experiences. A student exposed to the dangers of monopolies will have less value in a free market than those exposed to the horrors of Communism versus a control group.

  9. This might sound stupid. I've read from a few websites that the North East United States has gotten more rain from climate change. I don't have much money and have a leaky roof nor the do it yourself skills to fix the roof.

    Now I have a mold problem. Anyways somebody close to me said that mold hates heat. That people use heated cables to kill mold. Therefore even in summer we have been running space heaters to kill the mold. Yet, it doesn't seem to be working.

    Furthermore, I heard about dry rot so I thought the best way to kill mold was heat and moisture. This seems to have backfired. If anything mold seems to like it hot and humid. Afterwards, I read about how dry rot is a misnomer whoops. I consider myself high in critical thinking skills and yet I still make costly mistakes. Best to have some humility.

    I've been running fans in the doors and windows, but the humidity outside is 91% if anything it might be making the situation worse especially when it rains.

    To summarize, can anyone confirm that the overall precipitation trend is increasing in the North East United States from climate change? Second, climate change really does seem to hurt the poor more. I don't think I contribute much co2, yet I cannot afford to fix my leaky roof worsen by climate change. Third, does anyone have any environmentally friendly ways to control mold and humidity?

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