The cold will inherit the Earth

When the call for sustainable development started to march out to mass consciousness decades ago, the critics in the field responded with a question: sustainable for whom? 

The wealthiest countries are the ones who own a disproportionate share in the greenhouse gases that cause global warming. But a warming planet does not adjust the temperature of a country according to that country's share in fossil fuel use. If that were so, the USA would be the United Sizzling America. It is not "wealthy country warming" that is happening, but global warming. We all live in a planet that has been warming.

Now, almost 30 years later, with the deadline for irreversible climate change looming if we do not take the bold steps that must be done within the next 12 years, you have to be incredibly dense to declare a victory for sustainable development at any level. The United Nations recently summarized our astounding failure in a jolting report which revealed that 1 million species are in danger of extinction because of the state of the planet. That is 1 in 4 species. But it looks like even if we failed to achieve sustainable development, we have tragically succeeded in sustaining and even increasing our inequity. 

This is what came out of a recent study that should get us all looking into the world map that relates rising temperatures and country wealth. 

It is already known that that poorer countries suffer more from climate change because they do not have the resources to adapt to it. Also, since poorer countries are generally found in warmer regions, any further warming adversely affects their health and productivity. The said study looked at the temperatures over time of countries and their influence on gross domestic product (GDP). In it, a pattern emerged, which is bad news for those who asked "Sustainable for whom?" and even worse news for hot, poor countries. 

It seems that the GDPs of a large chunk of the bottom of the poorest countries have decreased 17% to 31%, and this decline has widened the gap even among countries by about 25% more than it would have been had global warming not been an issue. These countries comprise a large chunk of the subtropical and tropical parts of the planet.

To make the gap even wider, the report also saw that while temperate countries are straddling the midline uncertainty of whether their GDPs would significantly benefit or be harmed by global warming, it would seem that the cooler countries are benefitting from global warming with their increased GDPs. 

When the study drilled it down to the relationship between GDP, energy consumption, and carbon emissions, it yielded glaring evidence to make a case for international environmental justice. 

From 1961 to 2010, those countries (18) with cumulative emissions of less than 10 ton CO2 per capita have economically suffered 27% more than they would have if there were no global warming. For the 36 countries with 10 to 100 ton CO2 per capita, 34 of them have economically suffered 24% more than they would have without global warming. However, for the 19 countries whose historic emissions over time exceeded 300 ton CO2 per capita, 14 of those countries have gained 13% more in economic growth compared to a world that was not warming. As you can see, the ones who contributed the least to greenhouse gases suffered the most in terms of economic growth.

Poorer, warmer countries that have had little energy access and use ended up being even poorer with climate change. Richer, cold countries who have loaded the atmosphere with greenhouse gases to warm the planet are even benefitting from a planet on fire. If the beatitudes depended on scientific data, one beatitude could now read: Blessed are the cold, for they will inherit the Earth. –

Maria Isabel Garcia is a science writer. She has written two books, "Science Solitaire" and "Twenty One Grams of Spirit and Seven Ounces of Desire." You can reach her at