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Living Lightly column

Climate inequality is right here

By Lauren Salathiel

While we were all distracted by the Christmas consumption frenzy, Oxfam released staggering figures that showed that the wealthiest five per cent of Australians – around 1.2 million people – generate more carbon emissions each year than the 11 million inhabitants of the Pacific islands.

This is climate inequality on a global scale.

But the global stage isn’t the only place we see climate inequality. It’s much, much closer to home.

When it comes to the climate emergency, inequality accounts not only for who tops the emitters’ list and who might best dodge climate change’s multitude of impacts, but also for who finds space at the climate decision-making table and who is more likely to be most impacted by climate change.

This inequality is multi-faceted and intersectional – it’s racial, social, educational.

It’s also gendered.

Men and women experience climate change differently, based on where our social scripts tell us power is and should be. One place we see this in the committees and cabinets dominated by men, deciding how we might (or will not) collectively address the climate emergency, based on their particular, masculine, experiences of the world and imaginings of the future.

This inequality is economic.

It determines where people live – whether in a place socially and economically buffered from the ecologically destructive forces of extractive industry, waste storage or the worst of climate change’s extreme weather. Whether in a climate-adapted home with solar, water tanks and insulation, or a poorly insulated, badly sealed rental home that is at the mercy of the elements and natural resource-exploiting corporations.

This inequality is bound up with bias – conscious or otherwise – around disability.

It plays out when people with lived experience of disability are not given the opportunity to voice their needs as part of climate emergency decision-making and natural disaster planning. This results in transport challenges during evacuations or refuge facilities that are inaccessible.

These inequalities are interlinked, playing off each other, exacerbating each other in the lives of people in our communities. And so any action we might take as communities, committees or individuals to address climate change, that does not consider these inequalities, is destined to perpetuate them.

We need to “walk and chew gum” – tackle climate change and inequality together, by seeking out, listening to and including the wisdom of those who experience inequality in our communities, and working together to design action, solutions, systems and resources that are truly fit for all.