The U.S. constitutes 5% of the world's population, yet we consume 25% of the world's fossil fuel resources.
The U.S. constitutes 5% of the world's population, yet we produce 25% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.
A lot of attention has been focused on the emissions of China and India, and indeed because of their large populations and booming economies (which means greater carbon use and emissions) there is reason for concern. But at this moment, the environmental impact of the average U.S. citizen is still five times that of the average Chinese citizen and fifteen times that of the average Indian. By our life style, Americans are the greatest per capita contributors to global climate change.
On the other end of the spectrum, inhabitants of the island nations in the South Pacific arguably contribute the least to global climate change. Their life styles have the least impact on the environment. Yet the residents of these islands are the first to suffer, becoming climate change refugees. Residents of islands such as the Carteret Islands and Tuvalu are being forced to leave as their home lands as they disappear under rising salt water, eroding shore line, killing mangrove trees and agriculture, and poisoning their fresh water supplies. Over 17,000 pacific islanders requested immigration to New Zealand in 2004 and 2005. Entire cultures will have to be transplanted onto foreign lands, assuming there will be places to go.
Large parts of Asia will also be affected by global changes in weather patterns—drought in some areas and flooding in others (which contaminates fresh water supplies). The African continent will be similarly affected. While ethnic hatred is the immediate cause, the United Nations has said that the genocide in Darfur is fueled by a decades long drought. In all it is estimated that one billion people will be displaced due to scarcity of fresh water by 2050. Such a mass of climate refugees will further tax national resources, and result in even more violence and suffering.
In the U.S., on borders in Alaska, the Inupiak and Yup’ik peoples are losing their land and way of life due to the melting permafrost. 180 villages are expected to go under within the next ten years. And as hurricanes intensify, the lesson of the Gulf Coast is that it is communities of color and the poor who suffer most.
The injustice of global climate change is that those who contribute least to greenhouse gas emissions are still the first to suffer. Those who contribute the most must recognize our responsibility for the suffering.
For more information contact environment @ uua.org.
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Last updated on Monday, January 16, 2012.
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