Student climate strike 15 March 2019, London, England. © Amnesty International (Photo: Richard Burton)

From climate change to climate crisis

By Ella Shen, Eurasia Co-Group Regional Action Network Coordinator with Amnesty International USA

The United States accounts for 15% of total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, leading second next to China, but by per capita calculations at almost double China’s. The U.S. is also a country with more than half of its population believing that global warming will not greatly affect its way of life within this lifetime, an attitude least helpful in motivating action against the climate crisis. Although some hinge on hope for the Paris Climate Agreement’s execution to make the difference, results are in and most countries and companies will be missing any set targets previously agreed to. This is further exacerbated by the fact that a key component for hitting world targets in reducing carbon emissions levels is the expectation that they would peak by 2020. The assessment now is only 57 countries accounting for only 60% of anticipated emissions will peak by 2030.

The world has watched climate change rapidly evolve from a climate emergency to a state of climate crisis. And the climate crisis brings with it not only a need to alter our lifestyles today, but a moral question of humanity’s responsibility to its home planet. The Earth has existed long before humans and is approximately 4.5 billion years old; life has been on Earth for about 3.5 billion years; and humans came into being just about 200,000 years ago. Yet we as a species have managed to pollute our oceans, rivers, and our own drinking water; deforest 18 million acres of trees a year (or 27 football fields a minute); emit 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic in less than one human lifespan (not counting other waste); and cause detrimental damage to our environment through ozone depletion and climate change. And these are just the first line of offenses, for they do not include the issues of microplastics, acid rain, a more acidic ocean, gene modification of other species, habitat destruction, mining, natural resource depletion, radioactivity, light and noise pollution, and the elimination of other species from this planet altogether.

Ethics and morality regarding the way we as a species interact with our environment and other life is prominently highlighted as a point of self-reflection with the tantamount build-up of evidence pointing to a certain quality of injustice. When it comes to the climate crisis, a more specific and new type of moral question now emerges regarding the consequences of our actions on our fellow human beings. This comes through the inequitable distribution of contribution to global warming versus those first and most radically to be affected. Bangladesh and the island nations of Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, and the Marshall Islands are frequently cited as examples of global warming causing regional inhabitability. For those populations, global warming is happening now, daily, and at a level that contrasts with those living in most higher income countries. Some island nations are predicted to cease to exist, forcing their inhabitants into permanent statelessness. In 2017, there were already 18.8 million new disaster-related internal displacements according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. It is predicted that by 2050 there will be anywhere between 100–300 million people migrating due to the climate crisis. Those most at risk are populations in regions experiencing climate stress in conjunction with other existing stressors such as poverty and political conflict. The climate crisis as one of the most consequential anthropogenic phenomena in the history of the Earth, is expected to lead to increased population dislocation in particular amongst those who have the lowest level of access to adaptation resources and living in regions with existing stressors, making it among the most prominent and broadest human rights issues now and in the upcoming decades.

To help solve the climate crisis, governments and companies must take immediate action to phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible and ensure a just transition to a green economy that respects the human rights of all people. If you agree, please contact the elected officials who represent you at the city, state and federal levels and let them know you want immediate action on the climate crisis.

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We've been fighting the bad guys since 1961 - you can join us! Official Amnesty International USA profile.