It Threatens the Most Vulnerable

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Climate change is unjust.

That statement may seem like an obvious one, but it was only after I started paying attention to the ways in which people were affected by climate change that I realized- it’s a cruel phenomenon. It has the harshest effect on people who already suffer a great deal.

I’m talking about the world’s poor. Especially the rural poor. While most common images of poverty depict something urban, poverty is mostly rural. Among those who live in poverty around the world, 85% live in a rural village. This means that they probably grow their own food and farm for an income and that means they need a healthy environment to survive.

The effects of climate change make this harder and harder. Deforestation creates soil infertility. Mass extinction reflects a state of crisis for the environment across the globe. People are being robbed of their way to make a living.

Over the course of my lifetime, we’ve actually made a big dent in the fight against poverty. In 1981, about 42% of the world lived in poverty. Today, that number hovers just above 10%. Most of it persists in rural areas. Poverty isn’t an invincible opponent, but it’s hard to imagine making strides against its final frontier without addressing the environment.

On our latest podcast episode, we’ll be leaning into the urgency of the issue.

From Kenya to Oaxaca to Atlanta.

In Episode 2 of Grassroots, I get to talk to Dr. Paul Robinson. Dr. Robinson grew up in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spent decades of his life studying a unique pastorial tribe living on the frontiers of Kenya and Ethiopia.

He explains how the Gabra herders occupied one of the harshest and most difficult places in the world to survive. But they figured out how to do it by mastering the art of counting and predicting the rain. With precision, they knew where to move their herds so that all could be fed.

Their way of living, however, is one that is being lost as climate change makes an impact on East Africa. What will happen to them now? I got to ask Dr. Robinson about what he’s heard from the Gabra elders over the course of years.

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I also got to hear from Luis, Plant With Purpose’s Country Director in Mexico. He explained how a problem like not being able to grow enough food is one of the biggest drivers of immigration.

I then got to speak with Breanna Lathrop and Veronica Squires, who co-wrote the book How Neighborhoods Make Us Sick. I especially wanted to talk to them more about an idea in the book: our ZIP Codes determine our life expectancy more than our genetic code does.

Breanna and Veronica are medical practitioners based in Atlanta’s Good Samaritan Hospital, they were definitely able to help shine light on how environmental conditions also factor into that same dynamic.

Ultimately, they introduce the concept of social determinants, one that helped expand the way I think of vulnerability.

It’s an urgent matter.

One of the biggest reasons I wanted to release this episode really early in the series was to highlight the urgency of climate change and environmental issues. For a long time, I thought of it as an important topic, but perhaps not a top priority. That changed upon meeting people who were affected.

I started to realize that it’s not just a matter of how bad the environment might be by 2040. The environment is already unhealthy. And that’s already negatively affecting so many around the world.

Between Dr. Robinson’s mastery of the art of oral storytelling and Veronica and Breanna’s passion for seeing a healthier planet and healthier neighborhoods around Atlanta, I’m convinced we’ve assembled some of the most ideal people to help reveal the urgency of the challenge ahead of us.

I hope you’ll find listening to this podcast as enlightening as making it was for me. Perhaps something you hear will ignite further clarity, or a new concern, or a bolder conviction. 

GrassRoots is available for download on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Anchor. New episodes release biweekly.

Philippe Lazaro