What are the Social Effects of the Climate Crisis?
Updated: Dec 2, 2021
As climate change continues to irreversibly damage our world and threaten our lives, the climate crisis is more than just an “environmental issue”. The social effects of this problem continue to deepen and endanger the lives of many around the globe.
Every country is a direct victim of the climate crisis in one way or another as societies and communities are faced with new challenges every day to cope with the rapid negative effects of climate change. Some of the biggest social effects of the climate crisis include mass migration and environmental refugees, food security and health complications related to pollution.
Let’s look at how these social effects are shaping the United Kingdom.
London and England
The capital of England is at risk of flooding if its citizens do not start to cut down on fossil fuels and emitting greenhouse gases. Climate Central conducted a study and predicted how this flooding could begin and happen by 2030, making a detailed map to show the scale of this situation.
As sea levels rise and climate patterns continue to change, the flooding threat to London could be accelerated. It is believed some parts of London will be underwater in 10 years, due to their proximity to bodies of water, such as Tottenham Hale by the River Lea.
The rise in sea levels is a cause of the high emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, which in turn warm up the planet and lead to the melting of ice sheets that increase the volume of the ocean. In January 2020, senior ecology lecturer Dr. Cameron, also pointed out that floods are not only a result of rising sea levels, but that warmer temperatures cause weather patterns to change. Therefore, combined with tides and waves, London can be subject to natural disasters and heavier rains.
So, London sinking due to climate change may result in many social issues, one of the biggest being mass migration. In 2020, London’s population was close to nine million, with over two million people living in at-risk areas. The London Councils detail that each borough is responsible for intervening and mitigating the threat of flooding, both river and tidal flooding, and surface water flooding which is the most common because built-up areas reduce natural drainage.
However, in the worst-case scenario where all attempts of preventing these floods fail, plans to evacuate the city will come into effect. This is not just a London problem anymore, as people will be displaced across England looking for places to resettle and restart their lives after losing their jobs and homes. This may lead to conflict and disputes for resource that will become scarce, a trend we’ve seen in other countries affected by mass migration due to climate change.
"1 in 3 London schools are near roads with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide."
But that is not all. The prediction above sounds very 2012-end-of-the-world, but the high levels of pollution are not only affecting weather patterns, but they pose a health risk to many citizens. Air quality in London is declining, resulting in chronic conditions, respiratory complications, and reduced life expectancy. A report by the UK Government in 2018 shows that the main pollutants are Particulate Matter and Nitrogen Dioxide, and the London Councils report that one in three London schools are near roads with illegal levels of nitrogen dioxide.
In a recent guide, it was explained that the UK incinerates 50% of recycling and rubbish, with London having the most operational in one city. All of London’s incinerators are in poorer areas, affecting people with low incomes and making them more prone to illnesses and pulmonary diseases.
The wider UK
Raising livestock is an economic activity in the UK that is under threat by climate change. One big concern is the return of the bluetongue virus, which is transferred by midges and attacks cattle, particularly sheep. With global warming, it has been easier for the disease to travel from its place of origin in South Africa to Europe and continue north, since the insects thrive in hotter climates. For England and Wales, this can mean huge economic risk due to loss of cattle to the virus and a decrease of exports of lamb which can lead to a huge price surge for lamb and the unemployment of thousands of people working in farms.
There is also an interesting trend to look out for, which is that warmer temperatures may result in a longer growing season and increased agricultural production, but the trade-off will be decreased water supply. A lack of proper irrigation systems and access to water is detrimental to agricultural activities. However, on the other hand, flooding results in the loss of agricultural products and will increase the erosion of the soil. Also, warmer climates will not only facilitate animal-attacking diseases to spread but also invasive species and pests will increase and threaten forests.
"The crisis is putting stress on the agriculture sector and everyone who relies on it to make a living."
These factors put stress on the agriculture sector and everyone who relies on it to make a living, which is a socioeconomic issue. They also alter the supply-and-demand for agricultural goods produced in the UK, resulting in an economic risk as less supply and more demand will increase the prices of local produce.
In 2019, farming was responsible for 9% of the UK’s greenhouse emissions, and farmers have promised to achieve net-zero emissions by 2040, and they have taken steps towards reducing their emissions by incorporating technology and changing the way livestock is handled and fed to reduce methane emissions. They put animals outside for longer periods of time to lower the need to feed them with soy and contribute to decreasing the demand export to the UK from Latin America, since it tends to be grown in land that used to be rainforest.
Third party threats
Food security is in jeopardy in the United Kingdom, due to climate change affecting other countries around the world. With nearly half of all fresh fruit and vegetables being imported to the UK from countries battling climate-change-induced droughts and natural disasters, acquiring these goods is getting harder as supply drops but demand grows with an increasing population.
As goods are harder to get, price rises are likely to follow, making the cost of standard dietary choices higher. This may lead to higher levels of malnutrition and sickness among communities that can’t afford it.
And this is only the beginning.
As the situation worsens in some countries, it will become impossible to supply the UK’s needs, and sadly the UK is not a self-sufficient country, so they need these opportunities for imports. In addition, as climate change continues to strike many countries in the Global South, mass migration from these areas to the North poses an influx of migrants to the United Kingdom.
The Friends of the Earth charity based in England and Wales called on the UK Government to welcome environmental refugees, since currently they are not protected by laws and face many challenges. It is believed that as climate change continues to impact the world, it will deepen the refugee crisis and result in the movement of many people towards the UK, straining the resources and access to water and energy.
However, there is no legal framework that binds the UK to accept these refugees, despite the fact that 98% of the new displacements recorded in 2020 worldwide were due to climate hazards. Worse yet, “climate refugees” is not a valid term since they do not fit the Refugee Convention’s definition of who is considered a refugee, and the United Nations have yet to set a framework for addressing those displaced by the climate crisis.
Is there hope?
It all sounds very gruesome and dark, but efforts to battle the threats of the climate crisis continue to be implemented all around the world, although not as fast as we would hope.
Currently, the UK has promised to reduce carbon emissions by 78% by 2035 and achieve net-zero by 2050, introduced biodiversity projects to protect species against rising temperatures, and implemented preventive measures against flooding like the Thames Reservoir protecting London.
However, these efforts may be in vain if the whole population does not work towards battling the crisis, which is why we are sharing a few tips from the Imperial College on how to lower the effects of climate change, and in turn, decrease the social effects.
1. Do your best to make your voice heard by those in power by contacting your MP and joining social movements fighting for change.
2. If you can lower your meat and dairy consumption, you can help to relieve the demand-supply chain and therefore help lower the emissions released by this industry.
3. Change your commuting behaviour, by walking / cycling or using public transport to lower pollution from car fuels and traffic.
4. Cut your carbon footprint by changing the way you consume energy at home, click here to learn more.
5. Respect and protect green spaces, such as parks and gardens, which are home to important fauna and help regulate temperatures in overheated urban areas.
Remember, your actions matter.
For more resources on environmental issues, head to our dedicated Climate Crisis section.
Edited by Caoimhe Glover