Climate Inequality

We know the world isn't fair even as we try our best to make it so, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that climate change disproportionately hits the most vulnerable people in the world. As an Indian, it bothers me enormously that underprivileged Indians - who have contributed almost nothing to climate change - are going to suffer its consequences more than anyone else.

One of the problems is that small increases in temperature averages lead to greater incidences of temperature extremes such as heat waves. A recent article in science advances talks about the increasing probability of heat wave induced mortality in India - it's sobering reading. MIT's Tech Review has an excellent summary here. Here's a relevant quote (from the original article, not the Tech Review summary):

the projected annual spatial warming in India will be between 2.2°and 5.5°C by the end of the 21st century, with higher projections over northern, central, and western India

To give you an example of what that might do, consider that on May 28th, 2016, the Pakistani city of Turbat experienced a high of 53.5 degrees celsius (128 degrees F). It's literally unlivably hot.

Per capita GHG emissions of the US are more than ten times per capita as those of India and yet the current administration choses to play hardball to strike a better deal, whatever that might mean. Yet another example of how the so called first world continues to maintain its wealth and power at the expense of others. 



Curt Newton's picture

Heat waves are a proverbial

Heat waves are a proverbial canary in the coal mine.

That climate change is forcing so many more extreme heat waves seem to be very much in the news lately, so we can hope there will be greater awareness of this front-line climate impact. In the immediate term, with the next 20-30 years of warming baked into our climate system by past emissions, what sort of response plans and adaptations can we make? I hope the emissions-heavy resource-rich countries can step up to their moral responsibility here.

For instance, this article in yesterday's New York Times: As Asian Scorchers Multiply, Records Fall and Attention Rises

"The effects have been especially dramatic in India, where officials said that more than 2,400 people, mostly laborers and farmhands, died from heat-related illnesses in 2015, the year of a severe heat wave there. That episode, one of four in India since 1998 that each killed more than 1,000 people, ranks as the fifth-deadliest heat wave in history, said Jeff Masters, the meteorology director at the online weather service Weather Underground.

The Indian government created a national prevention and management response plan for heat waves, but experts say that extreme heat in India and beyond still poses disproportionately high risks for the poor. A study found, for example, that when a deadly 2015 heat wave swept through Karachi, Pakistan, residents with limited education and monthly incomes of less than $196 faced a significantly higher risk of death.

Unskilled laborers “don’t have the luxury of taking the afternoon off work, so they’ll cool off under a tree for a bit but keep returning to work,” said Shravan Jha, a team manager for the Agriculture Department in Bihar, a province in India’s northeast. “There is lots of poverty here, and let’s say a construction worker takes the day off: How will he feed his kids?”

As Dr. Jeff Masters notes in his June 16 Weather Underground blog post "All-Time Extreme Heat Expected in Southwest U.S.", predicting a solid week of high temperatures exceeding 120 deg C:

Longer and more intense heat waves are a key indicator of our planet's warming climate, as noted in a website from Climate Signals that puts the evolving Southwest heat wave in the context of recent observations and research.