The U.S. is saturated with arguments over the existence and cause of global warming, though the science on the subject has long been settled. The time has come for rhetoric on climate change to become more ethically and socially grounded.
Data on rising sea temperatures and shrinking polar ice make the news, but more attention needs to be on victims of global warming. While we all will inevitably experience the consequences of unbridled pollution and fossil fuel burning, citizens of developing and underdeveloped nations will face worse fates than those in developed areas.
Global warming makes class divisions starker, affecting the world’s poorest more. Pope Francis recently issued an encyclical on the ethics of global warming. He said ethical considerations concerning poverty and the sanctity of life are linked to the environment and climate change. This writing condemns the consumerist nature of Western culture and urges individuals to ameliorate the affects of global warming.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found in its 2013 report that the lowest income nationstend to be the most affected. Cyclones are becoming more devastating in Bangladesh and Burma, droughts are threatening crops in India and Africa and rainfall is more erratic, shrinking the quantity of arable land. As these trends worsen, the populations of developing countries are growing.
In the developed world, governments and individuals have resources to stave off the consequences of climate change. However, such resources are not available in developing areas. While developing regions tend to have problems with emissions, the U.S., Europe and China remain the world’s main polluters. We in America may not feel strongly about the affects of climate change because the consequences of our actions and habits tend not to affect us.
However, our consumerist patterns have negative effects for those struggling for existence in developing areas. It is time that we change the conversation on climate change. It is not simply a scientific or political issue; it is distinctly moral. As the pope states, “The human... and the natural environment deteriorate together; we cannot adequately combat environmental degradation unless we attend to causes related to human and social degradation.... (T)he deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.”
We must think of our current condition more holistically, considering how personal economic choices affect geographically distant groups of people. The political responses to Pope Francis’ encyclical have been varied. GOP presidential candidates Rick Santorum and Jeb Bush, though Catholic, expressed disagreement. Many U.S. conservative leaders, flying in the face of scientific proof, still hold that if global warming exists, humans could not have caused it. Today, dismissing the evidence that supports climate change is not only dangerous and civically irresponsible, it is also akin to purporting that the Earth is flat.
Bush and Santorum criticized the pope for stepping into politics in his statements on the connections between climate change, economics and ethics. However, Pope Francis, as a moral leader for more than a billion Catholics, must enter political discussion, especially when economic policy in the West is a driving factor in the degradation of the Earth, disproportionately affecting those who do not have the means to deal with such problems.
The pope is correct. Climate change and the economics associated with it are now moral issues that political leaders and voters must consider and take responsibility for.
Ike Uri of Lawrence is a student at the University of Kansas, studying sociology and Russian language. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.