By NICHOLAS HOWARD-JENNINGS, age 10,
ELEANOR HEDGES DUROY, age 12,
and MARIANNE NACANAYNAY, age 12
Introduction by IndyKids Staff
Illustrations by Kit Mills
On April 22, 2015, President Obama gave his Earth Day address from the Florida Everglades, a national park that could be destroyed by global warming.
As the effects of climate change become more evident around the nation and the world, rising sea levels, drought and extreme weather will be most destructive for already marginalized communities. Towns, villages and entire countries are already experiencing the catastrophic effects of a warming planet. This devastation increases existing inequalities as resources decrease and become more expensive, and the cost of rebuilding is too high for poor families across the globe.
In his speech, Obama made it clear that real climate action cannot wait, saying, “This is not a problem for another generation. This is a problem now.”
Melting Arctic Ice Impacts Inuit in Alaska
Inuit people in Alaska and Canada are seeking government aid because they depend on ice to sustain their way of life, but they don’t have the resources to solve the problem that has been going on for the last decade.
Ice used to protect Alaska from powerful waves. “As we grew up, we’ve never seen the water come over the village, but in the last 10 years, it came over the village at least three times,” says Millie Howley, the president of the Native Village of Kivalina, an Alaskan island community.
Inuit rely on mammals that come up onto the ice for food, so less ice means shorter, less successful hunting trips. The Inuit are also accustomed to traveling on frozen rivers and there are no roads to travel on as an alternative.
Drought Contributed to the Syrian War
A recent study conducted by Columbia University’s Earth Institute indicates climate change may have contributed to the current civil war in Syria, which has killed 200,000 and displaced four million people.
In 2006, a buildup of greenhouse gasses triggered a three-year drought causing crop loss, water reduction and increased poverty. Rural residents facing increased diseases, high food prices, barren fields and lack of access to clean water moved toward cities seeking assistance from the Syrian government. Cities were unable to support so many new residents, and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad refused to help the displaced people. This contributed to already politically unstable conditions in Syria.
Richard Seager a Columbia University climate scientist who co-authored the study notes, “We’re not saying the drought caused the war, we’re saying that added to all the other stressors it helped kick things over the threshold into open conflict.”
Water Salinization Destroys Crops and Drinking Water in Bangladesh
Climate change’s impact on Bangladesh, a small country bordered by India and the Bay of Bengal, is already devastating.
Rising sea levels due to melting snow caps in the Himalayan Mountains, dams, increased cyclones and changes in monsoon season duration have pushed salt into Bangladesh’s rice fields and the fresh water that’s under the earth through a process called salinization. Rainfall, evaporation and rivers that run into sea all impact how salty the ocean is. Rising air and water temperatures have thrown off that balance, making the ocean saltier than it used to be. Most crops find it difficult to get water from soil that’s too salty. This process poses serious risks to the entire country’s drinking water and arable land.
Once top producers of rice, Bangladeshi farmers are now losing crops. Former farmers are moving toward the country’s capital where they are employed in sometimes unsafe factory jobs.
Water Shortages Create Fear in Brazil
São Paulo, Brazil, South America’s largest city, is predicted to run out of water by this summer.
The metropolis is facing its worst drought in years. Droughts are common in the area, but are becoming more extreme due to deforestation in the Amazon and climate change. The government has already rationed water and brought in emergency water trucks. However, trucks are not reaching everyone, especially those in poorer neighborhoods.
Some residents, like Elsa Barbosa, have resorted to collecting water from old, decaying wells. Barbosa spoke with WVXU radio about having to boil well water constantly and how that still didn’t prevent people from getting sick. “There were stomach aches and vomiting,” she said.
Others have started collecting rain water, but this can lead to major health problems like dengue fever, which is spread by mosquitoes that breed in standing water. The number of dengue fever cases has tripled in São Paulo in only one year.
Rising Sea Levels Threaten Island Nation of Kiribati
Climate change has put a strain on food and water supplies in Kiribati, an island in the center of the Pacific Ocean. Crops are washed away with rain or die from severe drought. Climate change also affects its economy, which is based on agriculture and fishing.
Rising sea levels cover so much land that people in Kiribati are being forced to go inland.
“Who do we appeal and turn to for our people’s right to survive?” Kiribati President Anote Tong asked the Human Rights Council. “If there is a major challenge on human rights that deserves global commitment, leadership and collaboration, this is the one: the moral responsibility to act now against climate change.”
President Tong believes, and experts agree, that the island will become uninhabitable by 2030, and could be completely underwater by 2100.
Glossary of Terms
Arable: able to be used for growing crops
Barren: not healthy enough to produce vegetation
Dengue fever: a virus in the tropics transmitted by mosquitoes that causes a high fever and intense joint pain
Inuit: the native people of the arctic regions of Alaska, Canada and Greenland
Marginalized: when a person, group of people or community does not have their needs met or prioritized by the larger society around them