January 16, 2018 Yara ElSharkawy

The Age of Environmental Discrimination

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day to remember his brave actions and those of others, actions that have allowed marginalized peoples in the western world to have a better chance at prosperity and the pursuit of happiness. It is crucial to reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we still need to go. As we reflect on historical discrimination and injustice, a new age of discrimination is being erected, the age of environmental discrimination.

In North America and Europe, we pride ourselves on our recycling facilities, hybrids, electric cars, and many other initiatives that we hope will make a difference towards the future of our planet and make us more resilient to the effects of climate change. The average income in Canada is 43,660 USD per year, which allows many of us to enjoy a comfortable and luxurious lifestyle by global standards. As we purchase more ‘stuff’, waste more energy, and throw away more food, much of our wealth is directed towards a lifestyle that is hurting our planet, yet we are the least affected by it. Climate change is seen as a real threat due to the natural disasters knocking on our doors more frequently each year, yet those who have much less are paying the real price of our luxuries.

Madagascar has an average income of 400 USD per year, this warrants a much different lifestyle than ours, one that does not contribute to global warming and climate change as nearly as ours does. Yet Madagascar is one of the most affected countries by climate change in recent years. 70% of the Malagasy population is below the poverty line, with 80% of Madagascar’s rural population relying on farming as a main source of income. The once fertile land is decaying due to severe droughts and floods, causing many farmers to relocate. With such poverty, there is no infrastructure or funding to support the Malagasy people in times of crisis. Northern Madagascar saw so much rain in the past year that mudslides destroyed crops, homes, and cities, while the south was suffering a drought. These severe effects of climate change have caused much widespread malnutrition, stunted growth in children, and caused loss of life.

The poorest of the world are the first to be sacrificed so we can continue to enjoy lavish homes, vacations, cars, and lifestyles that this planet cannot sustain. As citizens of wealthy countries, we must take responsibility and support the less fortunate countries that are most affected by climate change, helping them build infrastructure and restitute those who lost everything to natural disasters. In California, if your home gets destroyed by wildfire, your insurance company will rebuild your home, while in a place like Madagascar, all is lost. If we do not act quickly, we will be dealing with a much larger issue, that of the climate refugees. The numbers of climate refugees will surpass the current Syrian refugee crisis or any refugee crisis we have previously witnessed. We can take action to prevent the worsening of this situation but more must be done by our collective governments.

We do not choose where we are born or what lifestyle we are born into, but the least we can do is prevent others from dying because of it.