Climate change will increase global inequality

Professor Tord Kjellstrom gave a lecture and Q&A about the effects of climate change on workers for the Nelson Science Society on Tuesday night.

Kjellstrom, director of the Health and Environment International Trust and visiting fellow at NMIT, spoke of the “extraordinary inequality” between hot, poor countries around the equator and rich, cold countries in Europe and North America in the coming decades as a result of climate change.

Countries in South East Asia and West Africa will lose billions of dollars in productivity and work capacity, while countries like Canada and Russia have calculated that their economies will actually benefit from the effects of climate change.

Kjellstrom provided the example of the Le Lai shoe factory in Haiphong, Vietnam. During the summer, workers stay two hours longer everyday to produce the same output. It’s so hot and humid they have to take more breaks.

“The trends are always going up,” he said.

In the upcoming UN Climate Change Conference in Paris, scientists and world leaders will make plans to limit the global temperature change to 2 degrees Celsius over the next 100 years.

The graph below shows four plans for the expected global temperature change. The top blue line is unsustainable and the bottom line is not currently feasible. Kjellstrom says we can expect the temperature to rise somewhere around the green and red lines in the middle of the graph.

Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 10.58.07 PM
Four plans to limit global temperature change. Most predict we will end up somewhere around the green and red estimates.

Kjellstrom added the expected life span of his two-year-old grandchild (yellow), and the successive generations. This child will almost certainly live to 2100, when the global average temperature is expected to be 2 degrees Celsius higher than it was in 1995.

“I imagine the sort of world he is going into,” Kjellstrom, who grew up in Sweden but has lived most of his life in New Zealand, said.

Kjellstrom and his research team have compared the temperature increases in places around the world and gauged the effects on working people in fields and factories.

Here in Nelson, with a booming fruit picking industry, the temperature has been increasing at a rate of 0.16 degrees Celsius every decade. It won’t make a huge difference in labor productivity.

Compare that to Singapore, where it is rising at a rate of 0.29 degrees every decade.

Or Istanbul, at 0.97 degrees.

Or Santiago de Queretaro, Mexico, where the temperature has risen at a rate of 1.29 degrees every decade since 1980. This is not a prediction, this is what has already happened.

It is clear that as the temperature rises, productivity falls. Workers have to start earlier in the day, take more breaks, take naps during midday or, in some cases, work becomes impossible.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.29.54 PM
WBGT is a heat stress index created by the American Military. It takes into account temperature, humidity, wind and other environmental factors. As WBGT increases, productivity plummets.

With a wide disparity between hot, poor countries and cold, rich countries, scientists and economists predict mass migration, massive loss in labor productivity and mass fatality. Entire countries will become unlivable in coming centuries.

The Climate Vulnerability Monitor expects a global loss of $2.4 trillion (USD) in global labor productivity annually by 2030.

One of Kjellstrom’s colleagues estimates 100 million refugees will seek entrance to Europe by the end of century because of climate change. Compare that figure to the 280,000 refugees who entered the EU in 2014 and 350,000 from January-August of this year.

That’s a lot of people with no where to go. He says they might be resettled in the cold, safe climates of Siberia or Northern Canada.

“I hope you are educating this government,” a woman from the crowd says during the Q&A, alluding to the conservative Prime Minister John Key. Everyone laughed and one man quipped, “Is that possible?”

The discussion lasted longer than the lecture. I appear to be the youngest in the crowd of about 60 in the auditorium style classroom at the Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. Most of the attendees are the type of Kiwi mothers and grandmothers who wouldn’t allow you to refuse a cup of tea or coffee and homemade biscuits. Rumbles of mmm, mmm, mmm and head nods spread through the crowd when Professor Kjellstrom makes an especially poignant remark.

“Is there anyone here who doesn’t believe in climate change?” he asks the crowd. Just laughs.

One member said, “It’s not a belief system…We should not use the word belief.”

Unfortunately, many people don’t see it that way. I find it sad that we most certainly have the ability and technology to stop climate change, but capitalism is preventing progress. Too many corporations and lobbyists are simply making too much money from fossil fuels, agriculture and livestock. They like the status quo and aren’t willing to change.

Kjellstrom said with his age he has learned to be patient. He said it is difficult to find funding for research and even more difficult for people to believe your work if it is not published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s clear this fight will take time, but by the time we take action, it might be too late.

P.S. I just watched Cowspiracy on Netflix. Holy shit. Mind blown. If you really want to be an environmentalist, stop consuming all animal products and go vegan.

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