Climate Change: It’s Not Just an Environmental Issue; It’s a Human Rights Issue, too

Hazera gave birth to Bonna (on her lap) the day Sidr hit
Hazera gave birth to Bonna (on her lap) the day Cyclone Sidr hit. Her husband went to find a boat during the storm, but he was knocked unconscious and did not return in time. Hazera and Bonna survived due to Hazera’s quick-thinking –climbing up a tree.

Editor’s note: Today is Human Rights Day 2012. Some might argue that it’s not a topic appropriate to a sustainability and green living blog; as Steve Trent of the Environmental Justice Foundation demonstrates below, climate change may be the single greatest human rights threat we currently face. Let us know what you think in the comments.

By Steve Trent, Executive Director of the Environmental Justice Foundation

As an international community, our collective failures on climate change are having critical consequences. Today climate change has become one of the major challenges to the basic human rights to life, food, health, water, housing and self-determination.

Philosopher Simone Weil said that, “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.” Take a moment to consider your roots and the place you call home. I suspect that, like me, your home represents a lot more to you than just the bricks and mortar of your house. Rather the place we identify as home probably has more to do with culture and background, friends and family, livelihood and daily habits and the landscape in which each of us live.

Whether from London or Beijing, rural Bangladesh or one of the many small Island states like Fiji, your sense of identity is fundamentally tied to all these things. In most cultures this connection is palpable. There is a beautiful example in the Fijian language – the word Vanua. This is often (mis)translated into English as ‘land’, but its real meaning is, ‘land, people and custom’, it relates to intimate connection between the landscape, culture and sense of identity.

What does it mean then to be deprived of your roots and home? Losing the security of the place where you sleep can be devastating. Being forced from the place we call home – the place you were born, where your family, friends, habits and culture reside by circumstances over which you have no control and had no part in creating.

And it is exactly this kind of forced migration that is now emerging on a massive global scale, with millions mainly among our planet’s poorest and most vulnerable being forced to move. These are the new refugees, “climate refugees” driven from their homes by changes in climate, the primary result of the developed world’s inability or refusal to understand the impacts of its development on the global environment and on others far less fortunate.

Next page: The global swell of climate refugees.

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