Climate Change is More Than Just About Weather, it's a Humanitarian Crisis | Opinion

Environmental campaigners and renewable energy investors often view climate change as a future threat or long-term business opportunity. In reality, climate change is costing lives right now. It's both a humanitarian and environmental crisis and it's time we all started treating it as such. Doing so would help increase the speed of much needed policy changes.

We need to stop measuring environmental catastrophe in degrees, and start measuring it in lives lost.

Whether the Earth becomes one degree hotter means very little to the average person. But what an extra degree actually means is environmental chaos, lives in danger and families uprooted.

The reality is that people are dying at the hands of climate change right now and yet we hear very little about the climate change body count—which is currently 150,000 annually and may double in a decade.

Climate change is criminally underreported as a cause of human suffering. Every day we are confronted with the horror of the coronavirus pandemic by 24-hour news coverage and a grim daily death counter—should we do the same concerning the climate?

Given this context, almost half of Americans don't think that climate change will affect them. This view is also due to political influence, with former President Donald Trump and other leaders calling it a "hoax." It has taken President Joe Biden's electoral win for the U.S. to recommit to the Paris climate agreement.

Despite all this, the climate crisis is on America's doorstep. Wildfires now rage throughout California on a yearly basis, forcing Americans to become displaced in their own country. In the U.K., climate change has increased the risk of dangerous floods by up to 90 percent.

The climate-humanitarian crisis is both direct and indirect: Behind some of the world's most horrific seemingly man-made disasters , like warfare, there is increasing speculation that the hidden hand of climate change plays a part.

A Syrian man reacts as water floods tents at a camp for the internally displaced near the town of Kafr Lusin in the rebel-held northwestern province of Idlib, by the border with Turkey, on January 19, 2021. AAREF WATAD/AFP via Getty Images

The Syrian civil war has cost the lives of hundreds upon thousands of civilians, due to a ruthless dictator. Yet this reality possibly masks the role of global warming. There is speculation that a catastrophic drought in the region, made worse by climate change, was to blame for accelerating the conflict.

The link between weather and war is not just limited to the Syrian conflict. Wider studies have shown that rises in temperature can lead to rises in conflict. By 2030, we could see almost 400,000 additional deaths from battle in Africa alone if the planet continues to heat up at its current rate.

If we were regularly told that climate change could start and sustain wars, perhaps many of us would see it as more of a priority. It isn't just about school kids in Europe going on strike for their future; it is about school kids in the Middle East and elsewhere being robbed of their present.

The unfortunate reality is that if there is a human tragedy, climate change is likely playing some role in exacerbating it.

This also applies to pandemics. We know that the destruction of animal habitats forces animals to migrate; humans then come into contact with animals they otherwise wouldn't encounter. This leads to the spread of novel pathogens, and increases the risk of a global pandemic.

More directly and undeniably, environmental chaos is linked to poverty and food insecurity. Drought and extreme weather ravage through developing countries, exposing millions to starvation in their wake. In the next decade, an estimated 100 million people living in developing countries could be forced into poverty due to climate change.

Climate change is clearly a humanitarian issue and we must present it as such to influence policy shifts based on popular concern. In the same way that telling the story of 3-year-old Syrian Aylan Kurdi transformed the immigration debate into one of empathy, we must share tragic stories to end our collective environmental apathy.

Rather than seeing themselves as pursuing separate causes, environmental campaigners and charities must work together to drive the urgency of the climate crisis home to the public. Such cooperation is essential if we are to tackle the humanitarian cost of global warming in a way that is sustainable and doesn't create more harm than good.

Oussama Mezoui is president and CEO of non-profit Penny Appeal USA.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.