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Global Warming Is A
Human Rights Issue

By Mary Shaw

13 July, 2007

Some people believe that global warming is a hoax. Or they think it's just a petty matter for tree-hugging radicals to fret about. Or they think it's a partisan issue, raised only by the extreme left wing.

All of these assumptions are wrong. And, as long as those in power continue to deny the threat posed by global warming, the future will remain frighteningly grim for our planet and for our future generations.

The scientific truth is that if action isn't taken immediately worldwide to reduce carbon emissions, the consequences could be catastrophic. This isn't just about polar bears and glaciers. It's about humanity. It's about the right to protection from the deliberate and careless destruction of people's homelands, property, and livelihoods. It's about the right to observe one's native culture. It's about the basic human right to physical integrity. All of these things are on the line for millions of people if this problem isn't stopped now.

In other words, global warming a human rights issue.

Here's how:

Global warming is redrawing the world map, in some cases destroying farm lands or even whole islands.

Global warming is spreading disease to new populations as insects migrate northward. Some people are dying as a result.

Global warming is forcing some island dwellers to migrate to other lands, leaving behind (and leaving drowned) their native lands and native cultures.

Global warming has sparked a new refugee crisis.

And global warming is a threat to food security for millions of people worldwide.

This is not just about some nameless dark-skinned people in faraway countries, although that shouldn't matter. Closer to home, global warming could significantly reduce production of several key food crops grown in North America, such as corn, wheat, and potatoes. This will not only affect world hunger but the lives of American farmers as well.

Furthermore, melting ice caps could raise the sea level enough to submerge parts of Manhattan and many other major population centers. Note that the world's financial center is in lower Manhattan, which is a likely flood area. Think of the implications of that, and then tell me if you still don't care.

Much of the world is moving forward to address the issue. However, the U.S. -- with about five percent of the world's population -- remains the world's chief polluter, generating 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. And the Bush administration continues to stonewall, lest new emissions regulations should inconvenience his corporate cronies.

George W. Bush talks about human rights, but talk is cheap. Just as Abu Ghraib belies Bush's rhetoric, Bush's inaction on the climate change issue further underscores his lack of concern for the wellbeing of this planet and its inhabitants.

We need to work around the Bush administration.

We need to urge Congress to put aside partisan politics and work together to enact legislation that will increase fuel economy standards and establish a realistic national renewable energy standard.

And we need to take matters into our own hands. We need to re-examine our priorities. We need to drive less. We need to choose more fuel-efficient vehicles. We need to conserve energy in our homes and in our workplaces. Every little bit helps. But it will take a serious effort by each and every one of us to make a real difference.

And we must.

This is literally a matter of life and death.

Mary Shaw is a Philadelphia-based writer and activist. She is a former Philadelphia Area Coordinator for the Nobel-Prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International, and her views on politics, human rights, and social justice issues have appeared in numerous online forums and in newspapers and magazines worldwide. E-mail:

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