Oped: A climate change solution for the forgotten

Jon Clark
Citizens' Climate Lobby

Donald Trump’s recent victory is generally seen as a win for the little guy, the “forgotten,” as Trump put it in his victory speech. Although Trump didn’t clarify exactly who the forgotten are in this country, I’m guessing he was referring to those at the “bottom of the economic pyramid” as Franklin Roosevelt called them in his famous “Forgotten Man” speech.

A woman who identified herself as Valerie walks along flooded President Street after leaving her homeless camp after Hurricane Matthew caused flooding, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016, in Savannah, Ga.  Matthew plowed north along the Atlantic coast, flooding towns and gouging out roads in its path. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)

Climate change hits poor people the hardest, those living in vulnerable areas and lacking the resources to help them adapt or recover from climate disasters. As the effects of climate change worsen, more and more people will slip into poverty as they struggle with disaster after disaster.

According to a report entitled “Climate Change Resilience: an Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities” put out recently by the United Nations, “Families living in poverty systematically occupy the least desirable land to damage from climate hazards, such as mud slides, periods of abnormally hot weather, water contamination and flooding.

Climate change has the potential to worsen their situation and thereby worsen pre-existent inequalities.” The report shows that structural inequalities increase the exposure of vulnerable groups to climate hazards. “According to the latest data, 11 per cent of the world’s population lived in a low-elevation coastal zone in 2000. Many of them were poor and compelled to live in floodplains because they lacked the resources to live in safer areas.” Climate change is harming the world’s poor and it will continue to worsen.

According to the World Bank, climate change will send an additional 100 million people, globally, into extreme poverty (living on $1.90 per day) by 2030, nearly half of them living in India.

Here at home, hurricane Matthew  greatly impacted poor communities when it tore up the nation's southeast coast recently, dumping up to 18 inches of rain on parts of inland North Carolina already soaked from previous rainfall. The death toll in North Carolina alone is at 26. “The poorest of the poor in North Carolina are the ones who are being hurt the most by these floods,” Gov. Pat McCrory said at a news conference, “These people have nothing.”

Floodwaters from Matthew have left downtown Lumberton NC underwater. In Lumberton, a third of residents live in poverty. Floodwaters crested at more than a foot above the record in Goldsboro, N.C., where the poverty rate is 25 percent according to the New York Times. “Those with cars have been able to take their valuables, or even their furniture, and leave town for hotel rooms or to stay with family.

Those who earn more are more likely to have paid time off, and to have savings to cushion the financial blow from a storm. And floods often play out in low-lying areas where the residents are disproportionately poor.”  For most of us, the effects of Matthew are in the past. Many in Lumberton are still trying to figure out how to put their lives back together after losing their homes.

They are likely feeling forgotten.

OPED: Citizens' Climate Lobby promises carbon fee bill

“Climate policies benefit the poor over the long-term and can benefit the poor in the short-term when accompanied by appropriate social policies,” this is according to the World Bank. “Carbon pricing, for example, puts a price on carbon to help lower emissions and can create a revenue stream from polluters that can be used to help the poor offset any rise in fuel or energy prices.”

This is exactly what Citizens Climate Lobby’s “fee and dividend” plan will do. Except the revenue will not go just to the poor, it will be dispersed as a dividend equally to every American over the age of 18 with half shares going to children. Because not every American has the same “carbon footprint,” the majority of households will make more money from the dividend than would lose money from the increased energy costs. Fee and Dividend is a financial incentive for everyone to reduce their carbon footprint.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby wanted to be certain that fee and dividend would not be an extra burden on the poor. CCL funded Kevin Ummel, an independent researcher at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis to do the research. He examined how a $15/ton fee on carbon emissions passed “overnight,” without changes in production or consumption factored in, would affect American households. The study went into great detail, down to age, race, and income level for every Congressional District.

Seeing the devastation in Lumberton, NC, I was curious how households in NC Congressional District 8, which includes Lumberton, would be impacted by that $15/ton fee on fossil fuels if the revenue were returned. In District 8, the study found 90 percent of those living at or below the federal poverty level (FPL) would benefit while 85 percent of low income households would make more money with the returned revenue than would pay in increased energy costs. “Low income” includes households earning less than 200 percent of the FPL.

Global warming, left unaddressed, will certainly put more of the world’s population into poverty. With Republicans now in full control of Congress, nothing is stopping them from passing market-based climate change legislation which will benefit the forgotten.

— Jon Clark is Mid-Atlantic regional co-coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby and lives in Dover.