The climate crisis and the nuclear nightmare both pose an unacceptable risk to the future of the planet that must be addressed. And there is another time bomb that is ticking away, which, if not addressed, could be just as disastrous.
Levels of inequality, within the United States as well as globally, have reached staggering proportions and continue to increase. Reverend William Barber of the Poor People’s Campaign calls the levels of poverty and inequality in this country a “moral emergency.” [i]
According to a recent survey,[ii]78% of all US workers are living “paycheck to paycheck.” As many as 100 million people[iii]are living in “near poverty” – just on the edge of being able to make ends meet. About 40 million US-Americans are living in conditions that the UN would define as “poverty,” 18.5 million in “extreme poverty,” and 5.3 million in “Third World” conditions of “absolute poverty.”[iv]
In the United States, people of color are twice as likely as white people to fall into one of the “poverty” categories.[v]It was inevitably the poorest who were affected most by flooding in New Orleans and hurricanes in Puerto Rico. And it will be the poor who starve first, whether from global warming or from nuclear winter.
These extremes of poverty are in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, with over 11 million millionaires, 540 billionaires and a national output of over $20 trillion.[vi]And the gap just keeps on increasing, to the point where the top 0.1% of US households now have the same amount of wealth as the bottom 90% of households (see chart).[vii]
Globally, the figures are even more extreme, with 80% of humanity earning less than $10 a day and 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty.[viii]The richest 1% of the world’s population now owns more than 45% of the world’s wealth.[ix]
Poor and indigenous people suffer the worst effects of climate change, nuclear mining and testing, war, and pollution. For full global participation in climate solutions, we need everybody’s participation, and we must be careful of “solutions” that involve continued exploitation of poor and indigenous people and pollution of their environments.
For example, forms of carbon trading that allow polluters to “offset” their emissions by supporting forest preservation in poor countries have the potential to benefit national governments and trading companies, while leaving the people who live in those forests without traditional livelihoods, jobs, compensation, or access to their ancestral lands.[x]
Climate change and nuclear weapons are emergency situations because if we do not address them now, it may soon be too late. We cannot know the consequences of continuing indefinitely to increase the wealth of the richest at the expense of the poorest. History tells us that societies that do not meet the needs of their people do not long survive. [xi]
[ii]Hayes, Ladan N., “Living paycheck to paycheck is a way of life for majority of U.S. Workers, according to a new Career Builder survey,” Career Builder, August 24, 2017. [http://press.careerbuilder.com/2017-08-24-Living-Paycheck-to-Paycheck-is-a-Way-of-Life-for-Majority-of-U-S-Workers-According-to-New-CareerBuilder-Survey]
[iv]Alston, Philip, “Report of the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights on his mission to the United States of America,” United Nations Human Rights Council,p. 3, May 4, 2018. [https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G18/125/30/PDF/G1812530.pdf?OpenElement]
[v]Gould, Elise, and Jessica Schieder, “Poverty Persists 50 Years after the Poor People’s Campaign: Black Poverty Rates Are More than Twice as High as White Poverty Rates,” Economic Policy Institute.May 17, 2018. [https://www.epi.org/publication/poverty-persists-50-years-after-the-poor-peoples-campaign-black-poverty-rates-are-more-than-twice-as-high-as-white-poverty-rates/].
Peterson-Withorn, Chase, “The Full List Of Every American Billionaire 2016,” Forbes, June 23, 2016. [https://www.forbes.com/sites/chasewithorn/2016/03/01/the-full-list-of-every-american-billionaire-2016/]
[vii]Holodny, Elena, “The Top 0.1% of American Households Hold the Same Amount of Wealth as the Bottom 90%,” Business Insider, November 23, 2016. [https://www.businessinsider.com/share-of-us-household-wealth-by-income-level-2016-11]
[xi]“Let them eat bread” is a classic example of the attitude that brings down governments sooner or later. See also de Waal, Alex, Mass Starvation: the History and Future of Famine, Polity Press, 2018.