Climate Change’s Devastating Impact on the World’s Poor

Climate change. For most people living in the Global North, it is a non-existent or purely political issue. But for those living in the Global South, climate change is a threat to everyday life. For them, it is not about science or political agendas. It is about security, safety, and survival.

Climate change affects more than just the Earth. It affects the innocent and already vulnerable people who live on it. Unfortunately, it is not an isolated issue; climate change perpetuates various other issues from human trafficking to food security. It is an injustice that hinders the flourishing of all creation: people, and our planet.

While climate change is a hot topic today, we don’t often hear about climate justice. With so much focus on what is happening to the planet, we are missing what is happening to our fellow human beings because of these environmental changes. Climate change is more than just a scientific issue, it is a justice issue. So, then, what is climate justice?

Climate justice is intentionally taking care of the limited resources found on our planet for the sake of sustainability and for the sake of curbing the effects of climate change (droughts, unpredictable seasons, floods, rising sea levels). Climate justice is recognizing that climate change is most drastically impacting the impoverished around the world. It is taking intentional personal and systemic steps to fight climate change.

Justice is not a single action or a movement; it is a lifestyle.

Climate justice requires mindfulness towards how we steward the Earth, and an acknowledgement that it does not belong to us; it has been given as a gift from the loving Creator. Therefore, as a form of stewardship, fighting climate change is not only an act of justice, but an act worship. It is a way that we can respond with respect towards the gift that God has given us, and obedience to his charge to steward this Earth well. It is also a way in which we can reflect God’s heart for the flourishing of all creation, planet and people alike.

As Christians, we know that our Creator cares deeply for all of his creation. Everything that he creates he considers to be good. We are created in his image and are therefore intended to reflect him. So why would we not live our lives as lovers and caretakers of this creation?

Let me be very clear here: We do not worship the creation; we worship the Creator. We should be moved to adoration, not idolatry. We must be careful not to allow ourselves to put the creation itself in the place of the Creator.

God is the Creator and therefore “owner” of this planet and the entire universe. Furthermore, he is also the only one with the power to completely redeem and restore this creation, a process that has already begun and will someday be made complete. However, this hope in the coming restoration does not give us the right to do with this earth what we please. Rather, our role and responsibility as Christians is to care for and steward this earth well.

Creation care is an act of worship, but also a matter of justice that requires our attention and action. Real people are suffering because of climate change, particularly those who are impoverished. Droughts and floods in various regions around the globe are a serious threat to the food and economic security of many people already living in poverty. Increased frequency of natural disasters and rising sea levels are destroying the homes of already vulnerable people. Thousands of people around the world are being forced to bear the brunt of climate change or flee their homelands out of desperation for survival.

But there is hope. There are things that we can do to alleviate this climate shift and this suffering.

So how do we “do” climate justice?

 We can begin with two key actions: we must hold our leaders accountable to enact just policies and we must evaluate our personal actions and make lifestyle shifts that will move us towards climate justice. This is how we can protect the climate. And this is how, ultimately, we can achieve justice.

We can begin by finding out what policies are currently floating through our state and federal governments and use our votes to get environmentally friendly policies enacted. We can also lobby to our governments to uphold commitments to eco-friendly policies, increase funding for these initiatives, or to prevent such policies from being overturned or modified. There is much power in showing our local, state, and federal officials that we care about the issue of climate change and want systemic policies to be enacted to combat it.

Though we can advocate to our governments to create and uphold systems that contribute to the flourishing of all creation, we cannot stop there. This issue will not be adequately dealt with unless individuals make intentional efforts to change harmful behaviors.

A simple place to begin is by asking yourself: How am I contributing to climate change through my day to day life? What are some things that I can do differently to halt my negative impact? What are some actions that I can begin integrating into my lifestyle that will move me towards climate justice?

If you aren’t currently sure how to answer these questions, do some research. Find out about environmentally harmful habits, and learn about positive ones. While some lifestyle shifts might be drastic, others are rather simple. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what you can and will do to work for climate justice. 

Our generation is known as a “justice generation.” We hold tightly to our convictions and to our passions, and we act accordingly. However, justice is not a single action or a movement; it is a lifestyle. Living justly is not something that can only be done at special events or on certain days. If we are passionate about justice, then the intention to uphold justice will infiltrate every aspect of our lives: work, consumption, politics, religion, and relationships.

We have a responsibility to our fellow humanity to live in this way. We do not exist in personal vacuums; what we do or choose not to do affects others. Living justly is not only a way to live in light of the heart of God, it is a genuine act of worship.

Many of the people who are suffering the most because of climate change live in developing nations that have contributed the least to the problem. Though climate change is one of the greatest injustices in our world, I have no doubt that our generation is one that can move towards pursuing climate justice for the sake of the impoverished around the world who are suffering from its effects, for the sake of future generations, and for the sake of God’s beautiful creation. 

-Amy Fossett is a graduate student pursuing a Master of Arts degree in Global Development and Justice. She is currently working as a grassroots intern for Micah Challenge USA, working to educate Christians on the harmful effects of climate change. She lives in Portland, Oregon where she enjoys soaking up any sunshine she can get!