PORTLAND – As obvious as it sounds, climate change affects everybody. That means men, women, children, the rich, the poor, people in the United States and those abroad.

If we aren’t among the ones directly affected by flooding, drought, and unstable weather, we are still paying the price in lost resources, economic uncertainty, political instability and the spread of infectious disease.

At the same time, we all know that when natural disasters strike, poor communities are hit first and worst.

Because women make up an estimated 70 percent of those living below the poverty line, they are most likely to bear the heaviest burdens.

They are the ones growing the family’s food, collecting fuel and water, and bringing up children.

At the same time, women are more likely to be less educated, less able to earn money and left out of the conversation about adapting to climate change — even though they are sometimes in the best position to provide solutions. Climate change simply exacerbates inequalities that already exist.

You don’t have to go to drought-riddled Ethiopia or flood-threatened Cambodia or malaria-prone South Africa to witness the effects of climate change.

Just take a trip to the hurricane-battered U.S. Gulf Coast or look at the damage done by the wildfires in California. Climate change kills crops, destroys homes and can lead to massive refugee problems.

Recently I met Sharon Hanshaw, whose house and beauty shop in Biloxi, Miss., were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. I also met Constance Okollet, a farmer from Uganda, who lost everything she owned to devastating floods, only to be hit by unimaginable drought just a few years later.

The tragedy that Sharon and Constance experienced is multiplied by thousands around the world, and it’s only likely to get worse.

The international humanitarian organization Oxfam America forecasts that by 2015, an average of 375 million people every year will be affected by climate-related disasters. That’s more than the entire population of the U.S.

Every natural disaster creates a ripple effect felt around the globe. Forty percent of international conflicts over the past six decades have been linked to fighting over natural resources. In fact, a study conducted by a panel of retired U.S. generals and admirals found that climate change could increase the risk of violent conflict in 46 countries, and named climate change a “serious threat multiplier for instability” in some of the most volatile regions of the world.

Congress must craft national legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, allowing the market for energy efficiency and clean energy to grow.

At the same time, the legislation must support international efforts that go beyond curbing the emissions that cause climate change, by setting aside funding to help vulnerable people adapt to current and future climate change impacts.

Policy makers call this “adaptation,” but what they really mean is helping at-risk communities become stronger, more prepared and resilient in the face of climate change.

With support, these communities can invest in a variety of cost-effective projects that not only build their resilience to climate change, but help them overcome poverty in the long term.

This includes drought-resistant seeds and food banks for times of shortage; coastal tree barriers and raised homes during floods; and mosquito nets and health surveillance systems to prevent the spread of malaria and other climate-related illnesses.

Poor communities have the knowledge and experience to craft their own adaptation solutions. At the same time, businesses around the globe have a wealth of technical expertise and services to offer in helping people manage resources in the most advantageous ways.

working together as a global economy, with integrated markets and supply chains, we can find global solutions that become engines of economic activity.

This must start at the local level, by investing in the women who are on the front lines in their communities. Their natural tendencies to be innovative and entrepreneurial will result in a new generation of solutions that can benefit everyone.

With the funding and ability to participate in shaping these responses, adaptation becomes a win-win for businesses and at-risk communities.

But Congress must act fast to ensure climate legislation does not leave these global opportunities and local communities out of the mix.

 

– Special to the Press Herald