On March 25 I introduced legislation that would recognize the disparate impact that global warming will have on women. Specifically, I cited women with limited socioeconomic resources who might be forced into sex work when their normal sources of food and income are disrupted. Immediately, right-wing bloggers and talking heads began misrepresenting the resolution, calling it “crazy” and “stupid.” In honor of Earth Day, I’d like to give you some actual facts. They tell a much different story.
Right now, women make up 70 percent of people worldwide who live below the poverty line. According to UN statistics, the amount of people worldwide who live in extreme poverty will increase by 3 million over the next 30 years due to increased environmental disasters that will make farming impossible in certain regions. Women's economic options are usually limited in developing countries, and most sustain themselves and their families with subsistence farming or domestic chores. Currently, female farmers grow 60-80 percent of developing countries’ food. What will these women do when they can no longer farm?
The United States is not immune to these dire predictions. California is also one of our country’s largest producers of fruits and vegetables, and right now California is in its fourth straight year of record-breaking drought. If food production stalls in California, economic turmoil won’t be far behind. Poor, single mothers already make up the largest group of food-insecure Americans – what will those women do in the face of rising food prices?
Poor, single mothers already make up the largest group of food-insecure Americans – what will those women do in the face of rising food prices?And food security will not be the only way in which global warming will disproportionately affect women. In 2005, 83 percent of poor, single mothers in the Gulf Coast region were displaced by Hurricane Katrina. According to research published earlier this year by the Royal Geographic Society, women are more likely than men to die in natural disasters since economic realities and social norms still dictate that they will be poorer, less mobile and more likely to be the ones at home caring for children when disaster strikes.
When told with facts, the story of global warming's impact on women is clear. As our world heats up and its weather becomes more unpredictable, women and other vulnerable populations will see their day-to-day situation become even more precarious. Social workers and health care professionals who work with vulnerable people know that circumstances often push them to make heartbreaking choices. Scientists and rational policy makers agree that we must act now to avert a worldwide economic and environmental disaster. The minority of global warming deniers will find any reason to bury their heads in the sand, and every second that we let them control the narrative and misrepresent the facts is a moment wasted.
So celebrate this Earth Day by confronting global warming deniers about what the future looks like for women. Tell them that if we continue to fail in our duty toward Mother Earth, we will fail mothers everywhere. If we keep speaking up, the deniers might find it harder and harder to deny.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee