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How climate change is exacerbating social inequality

How climate change is exacerbating social inequality

Status: 07/23/2023 5:30 AM

Climate change affects everyone – but some suffer from the heat more than others. The poor are particularly affected because they are least able to protect themselves. This could threaten social cohesion.

Prolonged heat affects not only individual organs, such as the brain, heart, pancreas, skin, or intestines. Instead, heat poses major problems for the entire human system, explains environmental doctor Claudia Traidell-Hoffmann. She is Deputy Director of the Center for Climate Resilience at the University of Augsburg.

The heat keeps the bodies in check

This is because, on the one hand, heat intensifies existing disease-causing damage. This applies to widespread chronic diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases. But mental and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease or depression also exacerbate when temperatures are consistently high. Millions of people are affected by such a pre-existing condition and subsequently experience a deterioration in their health.

The reason for this, according to Traidl-Hoffmann: “If we have to focus on maintaining our body temperature, it means that other diseases that need attention from the body are no longer given the attention necessary to keep these diseases under control.”

Young people are also affected

But even for otherwise healthy pups, prolonged, high heat is a problem. Because even a small organism can only compensate for this burden to a limited extent. When a person is exposed to the scorching sun and heat for many hours without protection, the body overheats. As a result, heat permanently destroys body structures such as proteins.

“If these structures become too hot, they degenerate. Then they lose their structure and then there is no proper key in any lock – it’s always the key-lock principle. After that the processes in the body no longer work and then they die,” explains the ecologist. All medical treatment options can no longer save these feverish people.

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Who is affected in the first place?

On the other hand, heat affects everyone because it limits their ability to perform and because it can be psychologically and emotionally stressful. But some people are particularly at risk. These are mainly infants, young children and the elderly. The heat control system is not working yet or is no longer working optimally. And since Germany has the second largest population in Europe, the pool of affected people is particularly large here.

In addition, those who cannot avoid heat for occupational reasons are also at risk. For example, in construction, with the fire brigade, in agriculture, with the rescue service or with waste disposal. What makes things more difficult for these people is that they are not only exposed to heat in their daily work, but often also in their living conditions. They often live in small apartments, poorly insulated, without protection from the sun, so they don’t cool off even at night.

This is a major problem for the organism, stresses Andreas Matzrakis, an environmental meteorologist at the University of Freiburg. Study of the Robert Koch Institute. Because after that the body can not recover. The researcher stresses that “socially disadvantaged people are much less able to protect themselves from the heat, because in the poorer parts of the city there are few urban alternatives, for example green spaces or water”.

Social inequality also contributes to climate change

studies It proves to be significantly warmer in areas with little green space, crowded streets, long, crowded houses, and many people than in suburbs with family homes, gardens, and parks.

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“It is often poor families who live in very cramped areas of the city, in very hot attic apartments, where there is a high level of exposure to this heat,” stresses Matthias Garchagin, professor of anthropology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich.

Less income, less life expectancy

Those who are already among the socially disadvantaged are the most affected by the consequences of climate change: because they have few financial resources and live in inadequately isolated apartments in densely populated areas. They are often in worse health than those who are better off.

According to statistics from the Robert Koch Institute, women with low socioeconomic status die on average eight years earlier than women with high incomes, for example. And for men, the difference is eleven years. That’s why Garchagin says, “We have a very unfavorable combination of the fact that the most socially and economically vulnerable groups are also the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change.”

Politics is troubling

Politicians have only recently focused on this issue. 2021 Study commissioned by the Ministry of Social Affairs with the leading title: The costs of the climate crisis: why it is increasing social inequality. Because those who live in difficult socio-economic conditions, who have to save every day to make ends meet, are more likely to heat up because of their living conditions.

Not only is this a huge problem for everyone, but ultimately it also threatens the cohesion of our democratic society, as Garchagin warns: A key question for social cohesion will be to what extent we understand adaptation to climate change as a shared task, and therefore we also seek to reduce these differences through these measures.”

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The Federal Ministry of Health has also recognized this and plans to create a national one based on the example of France heat plan to adopt. But the vote is still going on.