The Poor to Blame for Climate Change?

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by Shalini Gupta | April 20, 2009 • On the front page of The New York Times on Thursday, April 16 was an article titled: “Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight.” The article was informative but troubling in terms of its framing of the climate change problem. There has been a tendency in public policy to direct focus of the problem to the most vulnerable, as was done in the recent U.S. financial crisis, where poor African-Americans were cited by some as the reason for the collapsing global financial markets: it was the home foreclosures of the most vulnerable that caused the problem, not the complex and freewheeling derivatives market structures or predatory lending practices. Likewise, this New York Times piece focused on the actions of rural poor women from the global South as a significant cause of climate change pollution and the problem.

Think Forward is a blog written by staff of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy covering sustainability as it intersects with food, rural development, international trade, the environment and public health. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy promotes resilient family farms, rural communities and ecosystems around the world through research and education, science and technology, and advocacy.

This is part of a larger reframing effort that’s been going on to put more emphasis on Southern countries as a “source” of the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. It puts “blame” on impoverished Third World women, which is problematic on many fronts as it diminishes the real problem of Northern country pollution and the high-energy growth-oriented policies of many Southern country elites. It doesn’t acknowledge that “all carbon is not created equal.” Emissions for basic sustenance purposes (i.e., cooking food) are not the same as those emitted for creating widgets in factories to increase the Gross Domestic Product.

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