When people talk about Climate Change, and the detrimental effects to human populations in general, we tend to focus on overarching themes: The world is using too many resources, big businesses are producing too many carbon emissions. What we sometimes tend to forget is how poverty, apathy, and indifference are some of the three biggest enemies to activism and change. When we address and alleviate poverty, we are leaps and bounds closer to adapting to, and maybe even reversing climate change.
Poverty is a tricky subject because it brings up feelings of entitlement, failure, and disgust. It’s one of those issues that we want to just pretend it doesn’t exist so we can go on living our middle-class lives, grumbling about tax season. However, there are many problems in this world, including climate change, that the small collective of middle class and upper class people keep trying to address, and we still haven’t come up with a good solution, besides actions like cutting productivity in factories to reduce carbon emissions.
What if the person had answers to climate change are actually out there, but are too impoverished to come forth with a solution? According to the psychological theory: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, “People are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is met, they seek to meet the next need, and so on.” Physiological and security needs fall at the bottom of the hierarchy, while Social Networks, Esteem, and Self-Actualization Needs are at the top. One cannot move on to a higher level need without the lower needs being satisfied. Battling poverty tends to keep people perpetually seeking so satisfy their Physiological and Security needs. Some people may never think about complex problems, like climate change, because addressing those problems requires people to ascend to seek self-actualization.
Think about the probability of at least one person, out of 322,000,000 in America, some day having a wonderful idea that could solve the problems caused by climate change. Even if it’s not one big solid idea, there may be tens or hundreds or even thousands of people with bits of an idea that can be collaborated to solve problems caused by climate change. However, what if those people are stuck fending for their lives in poverty, domestic abuse, and hunger? The last thing on their minds might never come close to these complex problems because they are still seeking to satisfy physiological and security needs.
In a common pro-life argument, in regards to forcing women to give birth to unwanted children when they seek an abortion, “what if you just aborted the person who went on to cure cancer?” Taking that argument one step further: What if you prevented an already alive person, with untapped potential, from discovering the cure to cancer because they were too busy fending off hunger and poverty? Currently, “22% of all American children live in poverty, while 45% of children live in low income families.” Talk about untapped potential. What if one of those impoverished children could go on to find the best solution to climate change?
This is where the situation gets tricky, because discussions of poverty turn to a who lives and who dies argument. Personal biases, classism, racism, and homophobia may come into discussion, but they all have two things in common: fear and a sense of entitlement. We live in a country founded on capitalism, and an ideology from Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, where common people are inherently “slothful, lazy, and incapable of any vigorous application even on the most pressing occasions.” With a pessimistic view on the basis of human life as we know it, one could easily develop a superiority complex over poor people: If only they weren’t lazy, they wouldn’t be so poor. They don’t deserve my hard earned tax dollars for sitting around doing nothing. Get a real job! etc.
However, in the same exact book, Adam Smith contradicts himself arguing, along the lines of: “People who work by completing monotonous, mind numbing tasks, over time become less engaged in completing tasks for sense of accomplishment. They become motivated by external rewards, and become lazier.” By stating this argument, Smith points out his own flaw by believing that all people are inherently lazy. Considering this is a gaping hole in fundamental beliefs about human behavior that fuel at least half of the political ideology in this country, we should at least look at how we treat the impoverished with a critical eye. Since external conditions, such as being forced to complete monotonous tasks or face destitution, can cause laziness, and still lead to destitute. What if we were to change that insidious environment into something more encouraging?
Currently the minimum wage in America is at $7.25 an hour. That number hasn’t risen “since 2009, when it was only at $6.55 an hour; prior to 2007, the minimum wage was at $5.15 an hour and had not raised in over ten years.” Contrary to popular belief, the minimum wage was intended to be a living wage, not students looking to make a couple bucks in the summer. In 1933, President FDR stated in regards to setting up the minimum wage “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country.”
He went on to argue: “By ‘business’ I mean the whole of commerce as well as the whole of industry; by workers I mean all workers, the white collar class as well as the men in overalls; and by living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of decent living.” The federal minimum wage was not enacted until five years later, but it set in stone the intentions of the federal minimum wage: a living wage.
There are ways to address poverty, like raising the minimum wage to the current living wage of $15 an hour. No one should have to work more than 40 hours a week just to survive. Once people have the ability to think about things other than where they are going to find their next meal, we will start to see amazing things happen. We will start to see more of the currently untapped potential start to flourish.
Someone fiscally conservative might argue that all of this seems like Liberal Socialism. Why is it a bad thing to help people? During the Cold War, terms like Socialism and Communism became ‘devil terms’ or terms which are perceived by a culture as absolutely abhorrent. However, America can already be considered as a socialist country, with government programs like Medicaid, Social Security, the Interstate Highway System, Minimum Wage Standards, etc.
In order to address greater problems in the world, society as a whole need to reassess poverty. Untapped human potential from people too poor to feed themselves can bring new solutions, ideas, and changes. These solutions can shape the world for a better future. When thinking about solutions for the world problems, like climate change, poverty needs to be alleviated in order to bring more contributions to the table.
- “Child Poverty.” NCCP. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
- McLeod, Saul. “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.” Simply Psychology. Simply Phycology, 17 Sept. 2007. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
- “Minimum Wage Question and Answer.” Minimum Wage Question and Answer. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
- Olsen, Hannah. “It Was Always Supposed To Be A Living Wage.” The Billfold. Billfold, 29 July 2015. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
- Smith, Adam, and Andrew S. Skinner. The Wealth of Nations. London: Penguin, 1999. 7+. Print.
- “U.S. and World Population Clock.” Population Clock. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Oct. 2015.
 (McLeod, 2015)
 (Census Population Clock, 2015)
 (Child Poverty, 2015)
 (Smith, 2015; 7)
 (Smith, 2015; 124)
 (Minimum Wage Question and Answer, 2015)
 (Olsen, 2015)