Why Climate Change Is A Social Issue

Updated: Nov 14

While most people are aware of climate change and even of some of its effects globally, whether they choose to ignore it or not, the link between climate change and social issues is less often explored. When one thinks of climate change, what are the images that come to mind? Perhaps melting glaciers, dying polar bears, floods and drought? These are the consequences of climate change that are shown and seen the most in the media but what further and developed repercussions would we see if we looked at climate change through a social issues lens?

Climate change is considered a social issue as well as an environmental issue because while it affects everyone on a large scale, it also affects people disproportionately. Climate change will often hit those hardest who are already suffering from inequality.

When we look at climate change as a social issue, we have to bring the idea of intersectionality into play. Intersectionality as defined by the Oxford Languages Dictionary is ‘the interconnected nature of social categorisations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group, regarded as creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination or disadvantage.’ The term was created by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw in 1989 and can be used to understand how people’s social and political identities can combine to create different modes of discrimination and privilege.

If we consider intersectionality when addressing climate change, we can delve into how and why certain people are affected differently.

While everyone can suffer from floods, or other severe weather events and natural disasters caused by climate change, the consequences are not always felt equally among people. Impoverished people oftentimes live in areas that are more vulnerable to damage caused by the consequences of climate change and/or live in homes that are less structurally sound than those of the middle- and upper-class. When natural disasters hit, it is far more difficult for low and middle income families to repair or rebuild because they do not have the same resources to fall back on as the wealthy. They also may not have the money to afford proper care for family members who are injured or affected by these events

Another factor to consider is the idea of climate gentrification. Gentrification on its own refers to ‘the planned or unplanned process by which wealthy or affluent individuals in the middle class displace poorer individuals in traditionally working class or poor neighbourhoods by purchasing property and upgrading it through renovation and modernisation.’ The notion of climate gentrification on the other hand is ‘a growing concept in which some properties become more valuable than others due to their ability to better accommodate settlement and infrastructure in the face of climate change.’ While climate gentrification shares certain detrimental effects on people of lower income, instead of wealthier residents pushing people out of their neighbourhoods and homes, it is developers who pressure residents and increase rent in order to obtain land that is more suitable in the face of climate change.

Indigenous peoples can often face the harshest and most direct consequences of climate change because of their close connection to the environment and how they depend on it. The difficulties that indigenous peoples are already confronted with, such as human rights violations, discrimination, economic and political marginalisation as well as the loss of land and resources, are magnified by climate change.

A clear example of this occurring can be seen when we look at the indigenous communities of the Arctic region. Indigenous people in the Arctic region rely heavily on the hunting of polar bears, walruses, seals and caribou as well as the herding of reindeer, fishing and gathering in their region for their survival. This doesn’t only provide food for their local economy but it is also the basis of their cultural and social identity. Some of the difficulties that climate change has caused in this area is the decline of certain species and the availability of their traditional food sources. Changing weather and ice conditions also pose a challenge to indigenous communities in terms of being able to travel around safely. All of these issues have a negative impact on their health and food security. Their entire way of life is being threatened by climate change.

Men and women are also affected differently by climate change due to their socially constructed roles and responsibilities. Studies such as the one done by Kristina Peterson about gender issues in disaster responses have found that there are strong links between climate-related disasters and female mortality. Women and children are 14 times more likely than men to die during a disaster. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Assessment Report in 2013 stated that climate change hazards ‘increase or heighten existing gender inequalities, thereby contributing to the greater climate change vulnerability of many women’. Gender-differentiated effects of climate change can be seen especially in women who live in rural areas as they often have more limited rights, limited mobility, less access to resources, information, and decision-making authorities than men. As a result, they are notably more vulnerable against the repercussions caused by climate change.

If we factor in some of these social issues, we can perhaps understand why we are not taking drastic enough and immediate action against climate change. Often, people do not experience the more obvious effects of climate change firsthand in the same way as those who are on the front lines. People see what is happening on the news and either don’t fully comprehend how it will affect them, don’t like to acknowledge it, or don’t feel as if they can make a difference. On the other end of the scale, people can experience the effects of climate change first hand but don’t acknowledge it due to a lack of understanding or proper education about it.

It can be easy to see what is happening in the world but still get distracted by what is going on in our lives and tuck away that knowledge, or call to action, that we have just seen into a storage unit in our brain which we don’t always come back to address. It is something that many of us can be guilty of at times, however not everyone has that ‘luxury’.


About the author:

I’m Tessa Schroenn, a 17-year-old girl from South Africa who has a passion for travelling and exploring the world, loves a good laugh, and can’t wait to curl up with a book and a blanket, especially on rainy days!


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