Who Will Really Suffer at the Hands of Climate Change?

We’ve all accepted that climate change is a thing, right? This usually isn’t the highest issue on my list of concerns only because those left who don’t believe in climate change are impossible to argue with. I’ve always said, you can show a person all the science and proof the grass is green, but it they believe it’s purple, there’s nothing more you can do. As I see violent swings in temperature and horrendously strong stores (both of which are weather, not be to confused with climate) I wonder if those things have become the norm. My biggest concern when it comes to climate change is not if humanity will survive, but who will survive.

I’m a bit of an optimist, so I am sure humanity will survive whatever climate change brings. Some areas of the world will become drier, some wetter. Other areas will experience more extremes between summer and winter. Eventually, things will become bad enough that the governments of the world – or at least some of them – will act. There are some who believe it’s already too late to act, and maybe it is. Maybe it’s already too late to stop climate change, but it’s not too late to prepare.

Human kind is a very adaptable race. We now live in a unique age where we control so much of how we grow and evolve. Technology is being developed at an ever-increasing rate. That, I believe, will be our salvation. Even if the environment gets to the point where we literally can’t survive in it, I’m sure we can develop enclosed, climate controlled living areas for ourselves. The Earth will look like Sci-Fi images of humans living on Mars. The question that often haunts me, though, is who will make it into those man-made environments. Will they be the people we need?

The answer is quite simple, really. The rich will survive and the poor will be left to the elements. I’m sure it will happen slowly and maybe it’s already begun. Just look at this Ebola outbreak we have going on in Africa right now. I’m sure an Ebola outbreak in the United States would not be anything less than devastating, but we do have the infrastructure, medical technology and hygienic knowledge to survive. Those are not things that they have in Africa. Despite the efforts of doctors trying to help, every news story I hear is about Ebola’s spread.

This photo, “Lake Hume at 4% - 6531” is copyright (c) 2014 Tim J Keegan and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.. The image was cropped to create the featured image.
This photo, “Lake Hume at 4% – 6531” is copyright (c) 2014 Tim J Keegan and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.. The image was cropped to create the featured image.

I am by no means saying that Ebola has anything to do with climate change. I only mean to show just who will suffer first. If we see the climate change more dramatically than people can adapt to, it will be the people most exposed to the elements, those who can’t afford to escape them, that pay the price first. Sometimes, I wonder if that will be the sign for the industrialized world to act. Once climate change becomes so dramatic that those in the 3rd world literally starts dying, I’m sure someone will stand up. Someone will say it’s time to act – not to save those already suffering – but to save themselves and their own country from suffering.

How will that really go, though? Will there be a division of class within those rich countries that decides who lives or dies? Will you or I be able to afford the necessary technology in a world modified by human action?

There are those who think climate change will start to severely affect the Earth in our lifetimes, but I’m not sure. I mean, we might see more floods, droughts and such, but that’s not the same as needing the abandon an area due to a changed climate. Honestly, I think if we really work on it, we won’t need to build ourselves artificial environments to live in. Even if we do need to build that, it may not be necessary in our lifetimes.

Still, my mind wonders about the human cost. While others worry about plants and animals that might go extinct, pollution or rising ocean levels, I worry about who will survive. Human kind will survive whatever plague and whatever environmental change (though our number might be severely decreased), that I am sure. Yet, who among us will be able to afford our survival. Will it be the people we need to continue on? What cultures, ideas and technologies will be lost because the people who used once held them couldn’t afford what was necessary?

Do you believe climate change is happening? How much has human action contributed to the effect? How long do you think it will be before human survival is threatened? Assuming climate change is or becomes irreversible, do you think humankind has what it takes to survive?

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38 thoughts on “Who Will Really Suffer at the Hands of Climate Change?”

  1. I very much believe that climate change is happening. I think the evidence is indisputable actually. I am also of the mindset that human activity is what is driving climate change, not merely some natural cycle towards an ice age or some of the other arguments I’ve read that remove blame from humanity. Honestly I think in some regions of the world survival is already being threatened by climate change and it’s only going to get worse. It’s going to take negative impact being felt on a powerful, developed nation (rising sea levels swallowing part of that country perhaps) before anyone sits up and really makes the required changes. I just hope it’s not too late. Sadly I don’t think the people in positions of power who could enforce the required, necessary changes (compelling industries to lower emissions, for example) care enough about a few generations hence to stick their heads above the parapet.

    1. I guess too late depends on your definition. I do not think we will be able to stop climate change. Instead, I feel like we will survive a worse case scenario. At the least, we can build artificial environments for ourselves. Sadly, I’m sure only a fraction of humanity will have access to such technology.

      1. I rather suspect you are right when it comes to the wealth divide being the deciding factor in survival. I think if we were to address things now than we might mitigate against the worst case scenario and stand some chance of adapting in time to survive given our propensity for innovation. I just don’t know if the current generation of people on power care enough about future generations. I’m one of life’s cynics and a pessimist though. I would very much love to be wrong.

        1. I do understand that. It will take more than technology – it will take cooperation. I’m sure there are global situations dire enough to make that cooperation happen but I doubt it will be in time to save most of the human race.

  2. We are not an adaptable race. We only adapt to what we create ourselves first. So in order to adept to climate change we need to create or ruin the planet some more so we can adept to our new artificial environment.

    We truly are the only race who adapt to our artificial created environment..It is how we survive, if we take all that away we are destined to be extinct.
    That said I think those exposed more to the elements will have more cunning minds to survive. As they rely on themselves and the environment they are in than what money can buy.

    If electricity is gone who do you think will start dying first/
    Climate change is evident, to late, never to late, but we need to adept to our planet and not have it adept to us.

    Ebola is the only virus who can be dormant for years, maybe it is mother natures way of saying their is enough of you people, storms may just be to do the same.
    But we do not know, though we like to think we do.

    Do we have what it takes to survive, no any more. We lost that knowledge long time ago

    1. You have kind of an opposite opinion to me. While I am saying those exposed to the elements and without the luxuries of technology will be the first to suffer, you say they will be the first to learn how to survive. You are right that a lot is dependent on electricity. I guess I expect humanity to work on technology so that it can withstand whatever nature throws at it. The benefits of such technology may only be available to those of us with excessive amounts of wealth, however.

      1. It is an interesting concept either way. Because what are we without that technology.
        And sure only us rich have access to it. But good will it do if a world is half destroyed.
        It is fun to see that those who have nothing adept to nature instead of relying on technology like we do to help them.
        It is where our vulnerability lies.
        A simple example would be that a 20 year old mum would hardly know how to heat up a bottle for their new born without a microwave. (and yes they do exist)

        We do not adept to nature, we alter the environment we then adept to. It is what is causing this global warming or mother natures anger.

        Good questions to ask though.

    1. I know what you mean. I was a little afraid to publish this for fear of the comments I’d get. However, it seems every comment here supports the idea of climate change. I’ll have to check out that op ed.

  3. I,too, am very much a believer that climate change is a “thing.” But in addition to the known and anticipated effects on our environment, I often wonder how such change will effect human relations: e.g. more wars over food, water, population growth/decline, etc.

    1. I took a class on “new wars” which was about how the next big wars will be over resources more than anything else. What you say is literally being taught. That’s going to be the new way of war.

  4. Apparently we are on the verge of causing the 6th Great Mass Extinction since the begining of life on this planete..
    http://www.livescience.com/13038-humans-causing-sixth-mass-extinction.html

    At the rate that we cut the rain forests, produce incredible amount of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere and nuclear wastes.. and the animals are dying all over the world… We are literally “Sh***** Where We Eat and sleep”. At this rate, i think it will be a miracle if we survive another 200 years, maybe less if we start a nuclear holocaust..

    1. Yeah, I doubt we’ll make it through a nuclear holocaust. Perhaps I have more faith than most. I expect things to go to shit, but I also expect someone will come up with technology to allow a fraction of humanity to survive. It might not be many and it might even involve leaving the planet, but I feel like we have the potential to build that kind of technology when needed.

  5. I’m afraid I take a far more dire view of the climate change issue. Not only do I believe that it’s real and driven by human activities, I seriously doubt that we will do anything significant to stop it. I don’t think we will, and I doubt that at this point that we can.

    And while I agree absolutely that poor nations are going to suffer disproportionately, I’m very sorry to say that I don’t really believe that the First World is going to do a damn thing about it until the problem is sitting like a flaming bag of dog-poop on our own doorsteps. Some Pacific Islands are already at risk of disappearing all together, yet the world does nothing (http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-09-23/pacific-island-nations-theres-nowhere-left-run-climate-change). The polar vortex that brought unusual bitter cold across the North last winter, and is expected to again this winter, the ongoing heat and drought out here in California – these are not merely matters of pleasant vs. unpleasant weather. At some point they will begin to affect our ability to provide for ourselves. And how are the Canadians keeping warm when the temperature drops to forty below? By burning fuel. How are agricultural products transported to California’s millions of residents? By truck. Climate change may actually increase our demands on the planet, and I’m not convinced that our technology is going to be able to keep up with the pace of our environmental destruction.

    I’m also beginning to think that population displacement isn’t even the worst potential catastrophe of climate change – although if we remember back to Hurricane Katrina, the magnitude of the difficulties associated with large-scale relocation of comparatively small numbers of people becomes perturbingly apparent. I suspect that we’ll survive, but I think it will be painful and ugly. Millions will not only be inconvenienced, they will die – from lack of food, lack of water, lack of habitat. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see major shifts in the world power structure – those countries that are most immune to the effects of climate change may become the leaders of the new world order. But will wealthy nations step up to assist those who can’t afford to devise solutions to the problems we’ve created? I doubt it. If we’re unwilling to tamper with our economies in order to effect change now, I can’t imagine that we’re going to be willing to do so when we’re really struggling to survive.

    1. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we will do anything to stop climate change. Instead, I am saying that I believe we have the technology to at the very least build artificial environments so that we might service in spite of climate change. There is so much that will go wrong, first, though. I fear for those who live in poverty today. It seems to me they will be the first to be affected and, as you say, no one will do a damn thing until it affects them.

  6. Climate change is huge and some of the things we are cutting down is trying to save our world the best we can. Lower exhaust gasses, Solar panels, windpower, green technology is the thing to go just a shame that countries like China isn’t doing the same.

    1. That’s going to be the biggest hurdle in my opinion. I doubt countries will set aside their differences to fight this. Instead, those countries who recognize the problem can only do what they can. I imagine they will soon have to start thinking about what to do to survive in a different climate no matter what they do to prevent change.

  7. I think you are a bit more optimistic about the human species than I. We really are not that adaptable and most of our “evolutionary” survival skills have been through tools than actual physical changes. Assuming we can develop technology to correct our climate mistakes without causing further catastrophic change, yeah we should be fine, but that doesn’t seem to be a big priority for most of the developed nations of influence. Hopefully, this will take change for the better sooner rather than later.

    1. Well, the solution I was thinking of was a sort of artificial environment, kind of like what was build in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. We might already be beyond hope of stopping the change, but I do the we have the technology to build an artificial habitat for ourselves. The question that worries me is, who gets to live in that habitat? How much will it cost? Who will be left to suffer the elements?

      1. So kind of like a Snowpiercer scenario where at best certain people will be put in categories and only a few affluent would really be living in optimal conditions? Yeah, that is a frightening thought.

        1. Exactly, where affluent people who provided the monetary means of building an artificial environment would then have to power to choose who got to live and who would be left to deal with the elements.

  8. Thank you for a thought provoking article. I enjoy your style and approach in general, very much. Highly relevant questions that you are asking and long debates over these topics had been discussed and argued for years. Despite all the deliberations none of the factors had changed much yet – we are still fighting the same demons and lots of people are making money from this demon hunting. Governments and corporations will not be the ones that will bring about the change. It will be those brave and courageous individuals that are willing to do whatever it takes from them to bring about change in their family, household or community.They know they may not be able to change the world, but they might bring about change in their community or nation. Every small action contributes to the larger scale of events.

    1. I think the governments of the world are too busy fighting with each other to do anything right now. It’s not going to be until things get really bad that they are able to unite and do anything. That’s why I went to the extreme of building artificial habitats. By the time the governments of the world decide to take climate change seriously, I fear it will be irreversible (if it’s not already).

  9. I don’t know how to say this but not all of Africa is suffering from Ebola. Africa comprise 54 countries and only three are affected. And the comparison between Ebola and climate change is, in my opinion, completely off.

    If technology is capable of saving us why do you worry? And it’s not true that so called third world countries will be affected most. Climate change will affect colder regions of the earth first. Whatever we do, our efforts will be insignificant.

    1. You are right. I did not mean to treat Africa as a country. I got that analogy from listening to the news, as they talk about the spread of Ebola. They often talk about the medical infrastructure throughout the continent and how it compares to the American medical infrastructure. This comparison in technology is what I meant to point out. The same problem affects areas of the world differently depending on the level of technology they have to deal with something. I imagine climate change being the same way. It’s not that it will randomly target third world countries and not touch others. It’s that, as the same issues affect everyone throughout the world, those with the technology to survive the change will do so. Those who – for whatever reasons – inhabit an area where such technology is not made available to them, will suffer more. If the world gets extreme enough that those exposed to the elements risk their life, those who can afford to build themselves and artificial habitat will live on while others will suffer.

      As it is, over the winter and summer, I often hear stories on the news of people living in poorer areas who can’t afford heat or air conditioning. They set up shelters for them, but many end up passing away. While here I am with both luxuries. I don’t have to worry about the extreme heat or cold. It worries me that, as the climate becomes more extreme, survival might have more to do with what you can afford than anything else.

      1. Considering that online discussions almost always end up where they begun, let me summarize my thoughts in a few sentences:

        Suppose we put Nature and Technology in a boxing ring, I swear, with just one blow, Technology will be dashed to pieces. Don’t mess with Mother Nature. Has the tsunamis, the earthquakes, the typhoons, the avalanches, falling asteroids and volcanic eruptions not taught us anything?

        Mother Nature knows best how to settle her own disputes. Alas! whatever we do, we would lose our grip on nature.

  10. I did forget something.

    If technology is so important to us why are there still people living and surviving under harsh conditions.
    Should they not have been extinct in some way. That is if technology is the reason we survive?

    Tribes have been living over decades without any kind of technology, even now in the midst of the jungle tribes under harsh condition live free as they always have. You and I would die there.
    In Africa under scorching sun with nothing but a single tree for some shade tribes survive without technology as we know it.

    1. There is surviving and surviving well. I am not sure anybody is making the case for complete extinction here. The fact that we survive under harsh conditions is a numbers game. There is higher infant mortality, greater suffering from injuries and sickness, starvation. Can we reproduce enough to combat those things? Of course. Technology has actually increased life expectancy, lowered infant mortality rates and reduced the spread or nearly eradicated many diseases. Does it mean we need technology in order to survive? Of course not, but you can’t say that it hasn’t been helpful. Technology itself is an adaptation. The technological advance that led to civilization was agriculture. Maybe a bad thing in the end who knows…but it was an attempt to live in a world in which food could be assured, in which one could have children with more security and safety because there would food and resources about. The very same survival adaptations you give credit to those without technology are no different than those who try to survive with technology. In fact it could be easily argued that anything we invent and develop to help us survive is technology. Whether it is a bow, a sharpened stone for cutting, a special clay pot for keeping food cool so it stays good longer, these are all examples of technology that man has been implementing since we became a species. Our ability to adapt has its strength in technological developments. Otherwise…what is all this intelligence and consciousness for if not to survive better?

      1. That is an interesting assessment, but to call a clay pot technological advancement? a hand dug hole in soil keeps things cool to?
        In what way is today’s technology for survival. I know plans in US about water management as the Dutch have done is a use to survive high water levels.
        Numbers will only come forth when a true disaster will fall upon us.
        One thing we could likely be sure of is that whatever Mother nature throws at us will most likely shut down the electric grid we need at this point in order to survive.
        It is none the less an interesting debate to see in what way, what technological idea is actually made for survival if by any chance a disaster is to happen.
        And if technology is in itself an adaptation than are we not using it wrong.
        Our strength is to change our environment so we do not need to change. And that is not adapting unless we adept to what we create. After all in the end we are pretty much also the only species who knows greed. How good is it to change our environment?
        I liked what you said and is something to give good thought as well

        1. I was actually talking about a specific clay pot that was actually a smaller pot inside a larger one. Between the two pots you would fill sand and then pour water into the sand. The evaporative cooling would keep the contents that you put into the smaller clay pot and a constant 55 F (12 C). A hole in the ground is not like that at all, and keeping your food in a hole in the ground is not safe depending on soil type and weather conditions. Technological advancements are not just about computer and massive machinery, they are better shovels, more accurate bows, advancements in sanitation, medicine, etc.

          Of course not every piece of technology is directly related to survival obviously. The revolution to overthrow Mubarak in Egypt was done through facebook. So to fight oppression, technology was used to organize and gather a large group of people. The ability to communicate more widely and spread information more easily could be argued as a better survival tool. One theory as to why we’ve been successful as a species is our ability to cooperate and work together. A lot of our communication technology makes that more possible.

          The point is that as a species, as we learn, we always try to do things better. I am not sure we always succeed, and sometimes we apply technology to terrible ends of destruction. At the same time, even weapons technology can be a deterrent to others attacking you. Studies show that a smaller percentage of people die in wars today than ever in our past. Overall humanity has progressed to become a more moral and productive species, but we still have the ability to cause great damage if we are not careful.

    2. I’m not saying should be extinct now or are any better or less than us. However, with climate change – assuming we can’t do anything to stop it – the whole world will experience more extremes. Extreme heat, extreme cold and extreme storms. We have the ability and might – in such an extreme situation – have the global cooperation to create an artificial environment to ensure our survival. That assumption includes the idea that being exposed to the natural environment of the earth at that point would kill us. So while other cultures may be adept in many ways, if their biology can’t evolve fast enough to handle the weather extremes, they won’t make it. I fear many will die that way before some rich guy steps in and say “Maybe we should do something about this.”

      In short, it’s not really rich and poor. It’s about those who have no choice but to be exposed to the elements when those elements become deadly.

      1. This does bring up a new conversation as to create more artificial environments to survive the natural environment we already pretty much hurt with our created artificial environment.
        Assuming is a good thing as it gives a change to change. but we set out to make it better not worse. The environmental change we are already accepting is due to our way of living and trying to change what is around us so we have a better life.
        And in the end it is those with sufficient resources that would than have a better way of survival.

        All in all i think those who are already so much exposed survive better, they have a head start.

      2. I didn’t intend to come back to this post but I chanced upon a video which I think would help people better understand what TK is talking about. Watch it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PkZXp4Cz_sc

        TK initially drew conclusions from an economic standpoint. In her opinion, money and advanced technology determines who will die and who wouldn’t. I was quite shocked at such a conclusion but that is what happens when one puts absolute faith in technology.

        It is indeed true that technology has lowered infant mortality rates and reduced the spread of some diseases but it has also actually decreased life span, if you look at it in terms of genetically modified food and infusing of synthetic medicines into the human body.

        The fact is underdeveloped communities have survived or adapted to natural disasters far better that advanced communities. Even if the affluent countries build a high-tech dome around themselves to counteract climate change, it will end up being a dome of doom and there will still be many other primitive people around the world quite unaware of climate change, which could only mean one thing-they survived. Just watch the video, it is analogous and you will get the idea.

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