Survival of the Westest: Climate Change and the Global South

While the BBC might think that a factual statement about rising temperatures should be redacted from a programme because it’s ‘controversial,’ most of us here in the real world are aware of the fact that the climate is changing, and it’s taking place at a faster rate than would occur naturally. This would seem to suggest that some external factor is causing such a rapid change, and most people are pointing a finger at the obvious culprit: humans, and their activities in manufacturing, agriculture, and other industries that generate pollutants, change the shape and use of the land, and more.

The obvious consequence of climate change is that, er, weather patterns are also in radical flux worldwide. Some areas are experiencing very high rainfall, while others have droughts. Record-breaking highs and lows are being recorded in many regions of the world. For farming in particular, this is devastating, because small changes in temperature and rainfall can make a huge difference for crops which depend on a very narrow range of conditions to grow. Farmers are struggling to cope with new conditions by growing different crops, testing engineered crops intended to withstand these conditions, altering soil management practices, and more, but the slow march of climate change continues on, and so does crop loss.

This isn’t limited, of course, to domesticated plants. Already, the ranges of native plants around the world are shrinking because of climate change, which forces them to new altitudes and other homes to find the conditions they like. Wild species are disappearing, moving, and becoming harder to find as they seek out new territory where they can grow, and reproduce, in comfort. Animal populations are moving with them. A huge global migration is occurring on a level that is unprecedented, and deeply troubling.

As with any migration, important questions are arising about who is going to survive, especially among humans, given that climate refugees are already becoming an issue in some regions of the world. Driven out of their homes by flooding, rising sea levels, droughts, and more, people are desperately looking for shelter and a new home, while aware that even as they move, the globe is continuing to change and they may not necessarily be able to find safe harbour for themselves and their families. In a sense, climate change forces a ‘survival of the fittest,’ pitting people against each other as they fight for access to resources.

And the writing on the wall here is obvious, because the story of climate change is likely to be one of survival of the Westest unless concrete action is taken immediately. The West has the money, the power, and the resources to weather (so to speak) climate change, though it may be rough for some Western nations. Shifts in our way of life may need to occur, along with radical policy changes that could change the way we think about farming, fisheries, and more. But the West is committed to adapting, to finding the technology to survive, and it probably will, though it may take on a different form over time, and it could be a very different place in 100 years.

What about the Global South, though? The nations least at blame for the current global catastrophe are those currently bearing the brunt the hardest, and that shows no signs of letting up. Regions without the clout of the West don’t have the ability to adapt and support their citizens through a changing climate, and many are struggling to catch up to immediate issues right now, let alone looking into the future to determine what can be done to prepare, and how to save as much of their culture as possible.

The West used up the vast majority of resources, contributed the bulk of the pollution, burdened the Global South with its demands, and sucked up most of the energy, yet it’s preparing itself to walk away scarred, but alive. Abandoning the nations it exploited and continues to exploit in the middle of the arena, leaving them to pick up whatever shattered bits and pieces they can so they can scrabble for survival. The blame and power differentials here are so vast as to almost beggar imagination, because it seems so absurd.

It’s like watching the police arrest a kid for skateboarding while a crew of bank robbers takes out Fort Knox.

While numerous scientific and other organisations have called for global action on climate change, scores of conferences have been held, and even some nations have stepped up to push for international cooperation, the West lags behind when it comes to acknowledging the role it has played and must play. The West must not, cannot, should not abandon the Global South to a mess of the West’s making, and must be willing to commit to certain sacrifices; it must not be allowed to survive climate change at the cost of the Global South.

As long as the West continues to take on the distinct attitude that it is entitled to the Earth and natural resources on it at the expense of everyone else, that as long as it demands and someone is there to supply, the demand is reasonable, that it is superior to former and current colonies, it will not be able to make a meaningful difference when it comes to climate change. We made this problem. We made it over the course of generations, and it is our responsibility to fix it and to work cooperatively with the nations we’ve harmed in the process of creating it.

Survival of the Westest needs to end.