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During his speech to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization on Monday, Pope Francis called upon the international community to take direct, preventative measures to fight climate change. Despite a wealth of scientific knowledge on how to address the problem, the pope feels that global leaders are not doing enough to combat severe changes to the environment.
“We see the reappearance of negligence regarding the delicate balance of ecosystems, the arrogance to manipulate and control the planet’s resources and greed for profit,” he said.
Francis’ words resonated with many as the world reflects on the devastating effects of numerous natural disasters over the past few months.
North and South America endured three weeks of record-smashing hurricanes. Mexico was hit with back-to-back earthquakes that racked up a high death toll. Over 1,200 people died across Bangladesh, India and Nepal as heavy monsoon rains and subsequent floods left the area desolate. Wildfires continue to engulf the west coast of the United States.
Just last week, destructive floods submerged thousands of homes in Vietnam and several towns remain cut off by floodwater. A resulting landslide buried 18 people alive, adding to the 72 confirmed casualties in the region. The nation is bracing itself for the impending impact of typhoon Khanun, which has already made landfall in China.
Early this week, Storm Ophelia swept across the United Kingdom, becoming the sixth major hurricane of the Atlantic season. The storm claimed the lives of at least three victims and left the island nation in tatters.
Wildfires raged through Spain and Portugal, killing at least 36 people and destroying farmlands, forests and villages across the country. Spain’s Interior Minister Constanca Urbano de Sousa blamed climate change for the devastation.
“We are facing new conditions…in an era of climate change, such disasters are becoming reality all over the world,” she said.
The recent clustering of natural disasters reminds us that these occurrences are not isolated incidents of natural phenomena, but rather they are all indicators of a much larger problem.
As Scott Gabriel Knowles, professor of history at Drexel University, points out in his article for The Conversation, the connections between climate change and the frequency and severity of natural disasters is apparent now more than ever.
“The damages caused by the storms will undoubtedly lead to important lessons in disaster preparation and response,” Knowles said. “For many, though, the most urgent call for learning has been to acknowledge at long last the connection between climate change and severe weather.”
The poorest countries and communities in the world are hit hardest by climate change because they are unable to afford the necessary adaptation arrangements. Governments don’t have the proper resources to evacuate people in at-risk areas during severe storms or floods. Global warming intensifies the spread of life-threatening diseases, which are already more prevalent in poorer countries. As global temperatures rise, it will become unbearable to live in shelters without air-conditioning and growing periods will get shorter and shorter. Oxfam, an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty, fears that as climate change continues to hurt crop production and upset incomes, it will worsen world hunger.
Geologists are calling the current climate change era the Anthropocene, to highlight the commencement of substantial human impact on the planet. While current trends indicate that the years of irresponsible human behaviors will continue to have negative impacts on the environment, there are many measures humans can take to delay or even reverse global warming.
Our duty as global citizens is to lobby for greater environmental protection both in our own nation and around the world. Climate change will directly impact your life, your successors’ lives and the lives of people you’ll never even know.
As Christine Lagarde, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), once said about climate change, “It’s a collective endeavor, it’s collective accountability and it may not be too late.”