This article is designed to inform you of essential facts, prompt you to reassess certain behaviours and empower you to be part of the solution.
Women hold the key to a cleaner, better future for everyone around the world. They make up the majority of the global working population, particularly in parts of the world where lives and livelihoods depend on nature. Because women take on the vast amount of the farming, manufacturing, education and food duties, it is no surprise that gender equality is key to tackling the climate and ecological emergency.
Considering that women have the strongest ties to the environment (as well as the knowledge and skills needed to build resilience), it is imperative that they are engaged as stakeholders and decision makers. Women are the stewards of food, soil, trees and water, and therefore the more empowered they are the more resilient and better managed these vital resources are for everyone.
Through adapted and improved agricultural and production methods, women are able to improve their incomes, gain financial independence and professionally develop within their communities and beyond.
It is assessed that by focusing and achieving gender equality across the world, emission reductions across all sectors could be as high as 85.4 gigatons of CO2 between 2030-2050. That is the equivalent to all the CO2 emitted through global energy production for the last four years.
A key aspect of gender equality and thereby climate mitigation is girls’ education. Girls with better education achieve higher wages, healthier lifestyles, have healthier children and maintain more productive, nourishing agricultural plots – which the whole world relies on. Simple actions such as making schools affordable, helping girls overcome health barriers, reducing the time and distance it takes to get to school, and making schools more female friendly have immediate and lasting impacts.
Our future relies on girls and women.
It is without doubt that those facing the brunt of environmental destruction and the climate crisis are indigenous peoples. For those who are affected most but contributed the least to the climate and ecological emergency, it is a daily fight for survival. Indigenous peoples make up only 4-5% of the world’s population but hold legal rights to more than 20% of the land surface and 80% of the planet’s biodiversity. Therefore, when indigenous peoples are threatened, our planet’s life support system is too.
We need to understand that the climate and ecological emergency has been effecting indigenous peoples for years. For them, it is not some distant threat to be tackled over the coming decades. It is already here and well established. In 2016, the Uru-Murato people in Bolivia joined a growing list of climate refugees when Lake Poopó – which they had relied on for food, work and medicine – permanently dried up. In 2011, the Arctic was already warm enough to rain instead of snow creating a layer of ice that caused the vast reindeer herds of the Sami people to starve. And across sub-Sharan Africa, years of perpetual droughts and extreme heat have forced indigenous tribes like the Maasai away from their centuries old traditions and ways of life.
Furthermore, indigenous communities are watching the lands they have managed and protected for millennia being exploited by global corporations. Resource extraction, energy production and intensive agricultural activities are routinely carried out on or near indigenous peoples’ lands without their free, prior and informed consent causing irreparable damage. Indigenous peoples are also threatened, harassed and murdered for trying to protect the land. Without the power, money and influence to take on the multinationals committing these crimes – and the governments supporting them – it is a one-sided fight.
It is a tragedy that the people who for thousands of years have managed, cared for and protected the lands we all depend on have become the most disenfranchised and disempowered people on Earth. And yet these people hold many solutions and strategies to better manage our natural systems and prevent catastrophic climate change that will impact us all.
Indigenous peoples around the world need our support. Whether that is through charitable giving, volunteering or just using our platforms to raise awareness of their issues and challenges. Furthermore, we can adopt a way of life that doesn’t degrade our environment and accelerate catastrophic climate change. This includes ditching fast fashion, reassessing how we get our energy, what we eat, and how we get around.
And it also means putting pressure on our governments and institutions to do more to stand up and protect indigenous peoples.
You may have never met an indigenous person before, or even know the heritage of First Nation people in your own country. And yet we all have a part to play in helping them not just survive, but thrive. Besides, they may just save us all.
It is hard to imagine that climate change can reinforce racial issues. But we need to understand that although the climate and ecological emergency effects everyone, it doesn’t affect everyone equally.
When the worse effects of climate change arrive (mass starvation, mass migration, extreme weather and major conflict), it will impact those in the poorest regions first and worst. Richer and more developed nations in the West have the money and the resources to implement climate adaption strategies. Consider New York City’s proposed $25 billion sea wall, which costs more than the combined annual government expenditure of the world’s 60 poorest states.
It is an uncomfortable truth to accept, but the vast majority of carbon emissions have been created by the industry and consumption of rich, western majority white populations. This is to the detriment to the majority of people on the planet who are poor, non-white and live in the global south.
Tropical, equatorial and island nations are already being devastated by climate change. These people are already living on the edge, struggling for safety, food and money. A single destroyed harvest can push entire communities into destitution and starvation. When this happens – which it is right now – tens of millions of people will face a choice; die or move.
The exodus of Syria – where 25% of the population fled the civil war – has shown us the illogical tensions and racial issues that arise when people flee danger and hardship for the chance of a safer life elsewhere. That is why climate justice and racial justice are so closely aligned, and will be even more so in the future.
These issues aren’t just occurring in poor countries, but in developed nations too. In western states, ethnic minority communities are far more likely to live in deprived, heavily polluted and vulnerable areas. They can lack the money, resources and influence to fight systemic injustices and societal barriers. As the climate and ecological emergency bites, these areas will become more polluted, more hazardous and more deprived.
Consider how in the UK, waste incinerators are three times more likely to be situated in poor and ethnically diverse neighbourhoods. Or how in the US, minority and poorer communities are disproportionately affected by air pollution relative to the overall population. Or that when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico killing 3,000 people, it took four months for relief aid to reach victims compared to just nine days for Hurricane Irma in Florida and Harvey in Texas. Climate change is clearly not racist, but it exposes the historic and systemic racial injustices in our systems, economies and cultures.
It is important that everyone – particularly those living in the West with comparatively high carbon footprints – accept that we all have a role to play.
There are simple, cheap and highly effective actions we can all take that will not only make our lives better, but improve the prospects for people around the world.
These actions are imperative if we are to reduce carbon emissions and slow the rate of climate change.
But it needs to happen today. Right now. Right this minute.
We can no longer sit on the side lines while millions of communities, families and children face imminent destitution and death simply because of where they were born and the actions of us few.
There are three fundamental aspects where LGBTQ issues intersect with climate change.
Homelessness plays a big part in how climate change will affect LGBTQ people. In the US, 40% of the homeless youth are LGBTQ while in the UK it is 24%. Research shows that being LGBTQ is often directly related to why these people are homeless in the first place, the primary reasons being parental rejection, abuse within the family, sexual exploitation, mental health issues or being exposed to aggression, violence, bullying and alcohol abuse.
If you’re homeless, you are highly vulnerable to weather changes such as extreme heat, cold, storms or floods. When climate change starts to degrade our food supplies, nourishment and fresh water will be hard to come by as well. And as society frays and people struggle with depleting resources in an uncertain world, violence is likely to rise.
So if a disproportionate percentage of the homeless population are LGBTQ and climate change makes them more vulnerable, then this planetary emergency should be of great concern to the community as whole.
Then there are the vulnerable members of the older LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people are already on the margins of society and that marginalisation can grow as people age. Old age can bring with it a raft of vulnerabilities to some that compound existing issues, such as loneliness, victimisation and lack of support.
Climate change will bring about freak weather events that can trap already vulnerable old people. If a flood comes, can they get upstairs? If a snowstorm hits, who will dig them out? If the power goes out, will they be safe? When people are struggling with their own situation, are they going to have the time or resources to help an old person down the street who lives on their own? It’s a terrifying prospect for many.
And finally, there is the fear of a return to the past. Some of the most recent victories for the LGBTQ community rest on a delicate balance. Having fought so hard in these battles, the climate and ecological crisis threatens to destroy it all.
Although mainstream across the West, homophobia still exists both on the surface and systemically entrenched across most civilised societies. The very worst of climate change is hard to comprehend; mass starvation, mass violence and societal breakdown. We saw what happened when people ran out of toilet paper during the Covid-19 pandemic. What will happen when they run out of food?
When this happens, those relatively new societal values and the people they impact most – gay men and women, trans people as well as people of colour and women in general – will become prominent targets. If this sounds too far-fetched, consider the everyday homophobia that exists not just online and on social media, but within the mainstream media and press.
If we can prevent the worse impacts of catastrophic climate change and biodiversity loss, then we stand a better chance of protecting the most vulnerable in our society. There are practical actions we can all take in every aspect of our lives to stop this from happening. We all have a role to play.