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Who Suffers Most?

While developed, industrialized countries account for 75% of the world's total carbon emissions, they are not the ones impacted most by the consequences of global warming. Poor nations, tropical countries, and minorities or indigenous groups will suffer most as a result of a changing climate. Impoverished nations are most vulnerable to the effects of global warming because they have little to no capacity to handle the emergent social and economic situations likely to develop because of rising sea levels and unpredictable and severe weather/climate patterns. In the end, even in industrialized countries, it is the poor and minorities who suffer most from damage done to the Earth.

Small island nations and coastal territories all around the globe are facing the prospect of completely disappearing with the imminent threat of rising sea levels. Rising sea levels are thought to be caused by two consequences of global warming: melting glaciers and the expansion of water as it heats. As the already warm Pacific Ocean warms and glaciers melt, global sea levels could rise as much as five to six feet this century. It is estimated that an increase in sea level by twelve inches can cover at least 100 feet of beach (Staudt). Therefore, small countries in the Pacific, such as the Marshall Islands, are disappearing at an alarming rate. Many residents of small Pacific islands have already had to petition Australia and New Zealand for refugee status in the event that their homeland is washed away (Moore).

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Even if countries are not in physical danger of having their territory eroded by surrounding oceans in the near future, it is becoming increasingly obvious that global warming causes an exacerbation of weather extremes and an increase in severe weather events. Record rain and snowfall, hurricanes, tsunamis, and wildfires will cause land, civilian, and infrastructural damage in all parts of the world. Intense heat waves will produce regular droughts in a large part of the globe, including parts of the US (Staudt).

Agricultural production will suffer drastically under these effects of climate change, which will rock the lives and economies of all nations, but especially people dependent on agriculture to survive. Australia is being forced into a role as a leader of industrial nations because it has had to deal with the effects of drought more than any other developed country. The current seven-year drought has crippled rice crop yields and intensified a water crisis in a country that has never had enough water. This crisis not only affects Australia, but also all of the countries which depend on Australia for food. This example paints a picture of what all countries, industrial or otherwise, will suffer as resources like water become more and more scarce (Draper). Indigenous people, who often rely on subsistence agriculture, are suffering even more because their health is so closely linked to the health of the environment. Rising temperatures are no longer conducive to growing agricultural crops, and flooding often ruins possible crop yields (Monastersky). Indigenous tribes in Africa, South America, the South Pacific, and the Arctic are being prevented from living according to their traditions because their lives are at risk due to an increasing shortage of natural resources and an endangered landscape (Gertz). Even native people in developed countries are often separated from the dominant society, such as in the United States or Australia, and may not have access to the resources of the industrialized world ("Aborigines..."). Minorities in the United States, too, face the brunt of the climate crisis because they are at a higher risk for the health problems associated with smog and global warming. In the United States, African-Americans are twice as likely to die in a heat wave as white Americans. African-Americans are also three times as likely to die of asthma as whites ("Global Warming's...").

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It is clear that the unequal impacts of global warming on the poor, indigenous, and minority groups make it easier for the privileged leaders of the Western world to delay climate change cooperation. Most of these groups are not even given a voice in the political landscape of climate negotiations, although it is clear that their lives are severely impacted by the outcome of these negotiations. It is important to remember that the white middle class person living in the United States is not the majority of the world. While these people may not be faced with global warming on a daily basis, much of the world suffers without a voice in the global political sphere.