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Protect the Planet, Save Ourselves: Climate Change is a Human Rights Issue

It’s frequently been said that,

“We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”

I believe that to be true.

And when you think of climate change, what comes to mind? Glaciers melting? Sad polar bears? (...Polar bears growing wings?) Pollution? What about poverty? Or refugees? As time passes and we better understand climate change, one thing becomes increasingly clear: this is not just an environmental problem alone. The environmental consequences of climate change directly and indirectly threaten human rights here and abroad.

But first, let’s back up. What are human rights?

“Human rights are based on the principle of respect for the individual. Their fundamental assumption is that each person is a moral and rational being who deserves to be treated with dignity. They are called human rights because they are universal. Whereas nations or specialized groups enjoy specific rights that apply only to them, human rights are the rights to which everyone is entitled—no matter who they are or where they live—simply because they are alive.” - United for Human Rights


This usually includes the right to...:

  1. Life: live and, in particular, should not be killed by another human being

  2. Sanitation: hygienic conditions through garbage collection, wastewater disposal, and human waste disposal

  3. Water: sufficient, safe, acceptable and physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic uses

  4. Food: the freedom from hunger and access to safe and nutritious food

  5. Health: the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health

  6. Housing: ensures access to a safe, secure, habitable, and affordable home with freedom from forced eviction

  7. Self determination: the right to freely determine political status

  8. Culture: the enjoyment of culture and its components in conditions of equality, human dignity and non-discrimination

  9. Development: participate in, contribute to, and enjoy economic, social, cultural and political development


Now, let’s look at the effects of climate change:

  1. Frequency of extreme weather and natural disasters

  2. Rising sea levels

  3. Floods

  4. Heatwaves

  5. Droughts

  6. Desertification

  7. Water security

  8. Spread of tropical and/or vector borne diseases


Tie these things together and we get:

Scary, right? The scarier part? Climate change is no longer a distant, hypothetical omen. It’s here. It’s been here. We’re not just understanding climate change, we’re experiencing it. And as it continues to make itself known, we’re only just beginning to see the very tangible human cost.

Looking at climate change as a human rights and/or public health angle isn’t entirely new, but it’s starting to catch on. While this adds an extra layer of complexity to the problem, it could be the key to our solution(s). Humanizing climate change might be one of them. Not only could it unlock a wider scope of compassion from the general public, harmful activities such as fossil fuel mining and deforestation that can’t be blocked on environmental grounds, may be able to be blocked on human rights ground.

We’re the last generation with the time to do something about climate change? What will you do with your time?

Kellie Komorita is a brand designer and corgi-illustrator extraordinaire at Modern Species. For more posts from her, click here.

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Discontent is the first step
in the progress of a man
or a nation.- Oscar Wilde