War still edges out climate change as the current greatest cause of starvation. It’s an ouroboros (snake eating itself, i.e. vicious cycle) wherein the more devastated a landscape becomes and the less food it can produce, the more people fight over it. Which leads to more conflict, etc. It is important to note that climate change alone has not been proven to increase the likelihood of discord; however, climate change compounded with challenging economic, political, or social conditions can heighten the risk of conflict.
Evidence links rise in temperature to a rise in civil war. Researchers at Princeton University and UC Berkeley found that a rise in average annual temperature by even 1° Celsius (1.8° Fahrenheit) leads to a 4.5% increase in civil war that year. There has been a global increase in the incidence of civil war following World War II, with civil wars even having a greater number of casualties than international wars. Civil wars are dangerous, and climate change is making them more common.
In 2022, the five regions with the highest number of hungry people as a proportion of population included:
- Middle Africa: 31.8%
- East Africa: 28.1%
- Western Africa: 18.7%
- Caribbean: 16.1%
- Southern Asia: 15.8%
The Sahel, located between Sudan and the Sahara (West Africa) and regarded as the most vulnerable area to climate change, is a semi-arid region comprising some of the world’s poorest and most fragile states (e.g. Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad, and Mauritania).
Darfur, a region in the Western part of Sudan, has been in a state of emergency since 2003. “…The general notion is that the decline in rainfall and land degradation increased and intensified already existing violent struggles over pastures, water and farmland, proportionally resulting in a large scale civil war.”
Population growth, along with increasing consumption, tends to increase emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. Rapid population growth worsens the impacts of climate change by straining resources and exposing more people to climate-related risks—especially in low-resource regions. There has been a reluctance to integrate discussions of population into climate education and advocacy. Yet climate change is tightly linked to population growth.
Top 10 Countries with the Highest Fertility Rates (by births per woman) – World Bank 2021 (2019 data). If these country names look familiar, check the list above of nations with the greatest rates of starvation.
Niger – 6.8 (West Africa)
Somalia – 6.0 (East Africa)
Congo (Dem. Rep.) – 5.8 (tie) (Middle Africa)
Mali – 5.8 (tie) (West Africa)
Chad – 5.6 (Middle Africa)
Angola – 5.4 (West Africa)
Burundi – 5.3 (tie) (East Africa)
Nigeria – 5.3 (tie) (West Africa)
Gambia – 5.2 (West Africa)
Burkina Faso – 5.1 (West Africa)
As the U.K.-based charity Population Matters summarizes: “Every additional person increases carbon emissions—the rich far more than the poor—and increases the number of climate change victims—the poor far more than the rich.” At the national level, there is a clear relationship between income and per capita CO2 emissions, with average emissions for people living in industrialized countries and key oil producing nations topping the charts. High-consuming lifestyles and production practices in the highest income countries result in much higher emissions rates than in middle and low-income countries, where the majority of the world’s population lives.
Sadly, the people suffering the most from climate change are those least responsible for the problem. For example, the United States represents just over 4% of the global population but accounts for 17% of the world’s energy use. Per person carbon emissions are among the highest in the world. People living in the United States, Australia, and Canada, have carbon footprints close to 200 times larger than people in some of the poorest and fastest-growing countries in sub-Saharan Africa—such as Chad, Niger, and the Central African Republic. In the middle of the spectrum are the middle-income economies, home to 75% of the world’s population. In these places, industrialization will increase standards of living and consumption patterns over the coming decades. Without changes to how economies tend to grow, carbon emissions will rise.
As there is no panacea for combating climate change, a wide variety of options needs to be exercised. An integrated approach includes educating girls and empowering women to make their own decisions about reproduction.
While the United States is best equipped to address the issue of reproduction, Republican lawmakers have systematically gutted programs which offered reproductive health care to these places. President Ronald Reagan first enacted the global gag rule—also known as the Mexico City Policy—in 1984. Every president since Reagan has decided whether to enact or revoke the policy, making NGO funding vulnerable to political changes happening in the United States. The rule forces organizations to choose whether to provide comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and education without U.S. funding, or comply with the policy in order to continue accepting U.S. funds.
Used by U.S. presidents since 1984 to signal their stance on abortion rights, the rule has been backed by Republicans – including Bush from 2001 to 2008 – and revoked by Democrats.
When the policy was in place in the Bush era, modern contraception use declined by 14% and pregnancy rates rose 12% in Sub-Saharan countries most reliant on U.S. family planning aid, a study found. When the policy was rescinded by Democratic President Barack Obama, the pattern reversed, with higher contraceptive use and fewer abortions.
Former President Donald Trump reinstated the rule in 2017. The evangelical-backed ban on funding for reproductive care extends beyond reproduction. Nearly 50 percent of global HIV and AIDS funding comes from the U.S. government. Under President Trump’s expanded global gag rule, the quality and availability of HIV services, including treatment, testing, and prevention, began suffering dramatically—more than previous iterations of the rule. The policy under Trump undid decades of work to integrate sexual and reproductive health services with HIV services. Vulnerable populations, and men who have sex with men in particular, began experiencing significant health service disruptions as a result of the global gag rule. Clearly, the evangelical-condoned ban isn’t about brotherly love.
Meanwhile, multiple studies have shown that the global gag rule has not decreased rates of abortions but instead has increased the number of unsafe abortions.
U.S. funding for family planning/reproductive health care is governed by several other legislative and policy requirements, including a legal ban on the direct use of U.S. funding overseas for abortion as a method of family planning (the Helms Amendment, which has been in place since 1973) and, when in effect, the Mexico City Policy (reinstated and expanded by President Trump as the “Protecting Life in Global Health Assistance” policy but rescinded by President Biden upon taking office).
In the situation where Republicans routinely disrupt the best efforts of U.S. progressives to reduce human suffering around the world, we can expect more war, more starvation (especially for mothers and children) and much greater human suffering all around.
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