While a majority of Republicans in a poll released this week said that climate change doesn’t exist, recent surveys of American doctors indicate that not only does climate change exist, but Black people in the U.S. are among those most likely to be hurt by this change in weather patterns.
In addition, studies have shown that Black people and poor people around the globe are being most severely hurt by the phenomenon.
It is a remarkable divergence of the public perception of Republicans and the actual experience of experts and medical professionals. But it raises the question of how difficult it will be for the nation to make any moves to prepare Americans for the increasing severity of climate change—in addition to continuing to try to reduce the heat-trapping CO2 emissions that bring about climate change— if a majority of the members of the party that controls Congress doesn’t even think the phenomenon is real.
The world is in agreement that the U.S. is by far the nation most responsible for emitting the most CO2, yet the poll released earlier this week of Republican primary voters by Public Policy Polling found that 66 percent of them still don’t believe in global warming’s existence.
A new survey taken of the members of the American Thoracic Society—doctors who specialize in the heart, lungs, esophagus, and other organs in the chest—found that 77 percent of the respondents reported that increases in air pollution due to climate change are worsening the severity of illnesses in their patients, and they expect these health impacts will further increase in the future. They are most commonly seeing increases in chronic disease severity from air pollution (77 percent), allergic symptoms from exposure to plants or mold (58 percent), and severe weather injuries (57 percent).
A group of doctors from the American Thoracic Society has been lobbying members of Congress this week to educate them about the results of this survey.
Another survey specifically taken of African-American doctors released in November found that a large majority of the physicians said certain groups of people will be disproportionately affected by climate change, based on what they have been seeing in their patients. They said the most affected groups are people with chronic diseases (88 percent), people living near or below the poverty line (86 percent), young children ages 0–4 (83 percent), adults over age 60 (80 percent), and people of color (73 percent).
As this survey pointed out, African-American doctors tend to have a much higher percentage of African-American patients than other doctors do.
Climate change can cause severe respiratory problems due to poor air quality, health problems caused by heat events and injuries attributable to extreme weather. In addition, the spread of food-borne, vector-borne and waterborne diseases, and harms to mental health are additional likely by-products of climate change.
This outsized impact of climate change on poor people and Black people certainly isn’t limited to the U.S. Climate change is a global phenomenon and its negative impacts are more severely felt by poor people and poor countries around the world, according to a report called “Poverty and Climate Change: Reducing the Vulnerability of the Poor through Adaptation,” prepared by a consortium of entities including the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme and the African Development Bank Group. They are more vulnerable because of their high dependence on natural resources, and their limited capacity to cope with climate variability and extremes.
Many studies have shown that it is the actions of the developed world, particularly the United States, that has put the world on the precipice of disaster from the CO2 emissions that remain trapped in the air for hundreds of years. The U.S. has put the biggest cumulative portion of CO2 into the air, while the UK on a per capita basis is responsible for the biggest portion of cumulative CO2—mainly because the industrial revolution began in the UK in the early 1800s, so they have been at it the longest, kicking the thing off by burning enormous amounts of coal to power industry.
After the U.S. and the UK, Germany is a close third in terms of responsibility.
Do you see a pattern here?
While it is the majority white nations and multinational conglomerates of the developed world most responsible for CO2 emissions, enjoying the spoils of their excessive lifestyles and conspicuous consumption, it is the poor, the developing nations, Black people and other people of color, who will most severely bear the brunt of these first world excesses.
That may turn out to be the most significant story of the 21st century.