Why climate change should matter to LGBTQ+ people

Stephanie Farnsworth examines how climate change will impact LGBTQ+ people across the world.


In the last week scientists have revealed that we are living in a new epoch for the first time in over eleven thousand years. The Anthropocene epoch is an era where climate is dominated by the influence of humans and much of the impact of our activity is now irreversible. As we develop more intricate predictions of what lies ahead for the world and its environment, there has been little focus on how specific communities and populations will fare. It’s an area that the LGBTQ+ community have been reluctant to even acknowledge but as has been shown, there is so much more to the community than marriage laws. Class oppression, racism, whorephobia are all issues that impact the community significantly but globally climate change will also play its part (and already has begun to).

The simple fact behind climate change is that it will hurt the most vulnerable the hardest. Those who are poor, especially if they are face discrimination/oppression for other facets of their identity will experience the worst of climate change. Climate change is largely a manmade problem and because of that it isn’t free from discrimination. It isn’t a case that all people everywhere will suffer, but that the worst off will suffer the most. Perhaps because of this it is therefore unsurprising that most of the leading global powers (the United States, Russia, Australia and the United Kingdom in particular) have at best done nothing to combat climate change in any meaningful way, and often policies have threatened our futures even further.

Those who are poor, especially if they are face discrimination/oppression for other facets of their identity will experience the worst of climate change.

The projections for what climate change will look like over the next several decades are bleak and it’s a reality that LGBTQ+ people will not be able to escape from. Across the globe, LGBTQ+ people are far more likely to be living in poverty and this includes countries that are often admired for their LGBTQ+ rights such as the US.  In countries where being LGBTQ+ is criminalised then poverty is almost an inevitable part of life. Often ostracised from support by families, and turned away by employers LGBTQ+ people have little financial hope but this is still true in many countries that are seen as supportive of LGBTQ+ people. Poverty is an epidemic for LGBTQ+ people across the globe but this also makes the community entirely vulnerable to any threats to society, such as climate change.

Changing climate has already had a horrific impact on the world and particularly those who are poorest. In 2015, India was besieged by a severe heat wave that killed over two thousand people. Most of these people were elderly, poor and had little access to basic resources such as fans and air conditioning. Soil erosion is causing many issues across Asia, a continent already predicted to face the brunt of climate change and this will further impact food supplies . The rising sea levels also threaten coastal towns and the many small islands within Asia. Of course, rising sea levels will impact Britain too but the fact is that climate change will inevitably target the poorest and it already is. It’s no coincidence that many of the nations struggling and facing the worst threats are developing nations where the population are largely of colour. Climate change has become yet another battle ground for the privileged to try to hold onto their power and little has been made of the fact that for decades Russia and the US have been wrangling over the oil that resides under the Arctic. Their interests do not lie with trying to save the world, but with trying to save their own futures.

Poor LGBTQ+ people then are inevitably at high risk from the face of climate change. They’re less likely to receive the health care they require, be able to access basic resources and in many of the regions that are predicted to be hit hardest, being LGBTQ+ is still a crime. These factors, combined with an increased likelihood of living in poverty means that LGBTQ+ people have few options for an escape route from the effects of climate change. Many will have to hide their identity (if that is possible) when seeking any aid from the authorities or they could possibly face incarceration. Avoiding the authorities at all cost is often an act of survival for LGBTQ+ people so if they require aid then what options are there?

Poverty is an epidemic for LGBTQ+ people across the globe but this also makes the community entirely vulnerable to any threats to society, such as climate change.

The loneliness that comes with being LGBTQ+ globally will also have a huge impact when navigating through a world changing as rapidly as it is right now. Due to widespread oppression of LGBTQ+ people, there are few outlets for support. Families often reject LGBTQ+ members, many governments have criminalised LGBTQ+ people and because of this LGBTQ+ people are at particular risk of abuse and exploitation. The results can work one of several ways: either the LGBTQ+ person ends up trapped in a potentially abusive situation but cannot leave because of the dependence on food, stability and shelter or they leave with little resources and options. In a small village, where most of the food comes from fishing but fish stocks are plummeting due to changing climate, then what options does an LGBTQ+ person have?

One of the biggest problems that the world is going to face is the issue of mass migration due to climate change. Researchers estimate that by 2050 as many as fifty to two hundred million people could be displaced due to climate change . These numbers vary wildly, yet even the smallest prediction of fifty million is still going to have a major impact on the world particularly when Europe is already facing a refugee crisis. Seasonal migration has always been common; people tend to move from colder climates or rural areas to warmer climates or urban areas during the winter. Someone hired to catch salmon for instance, cannot do so when the fish have migrated. Patterns of migration are therefore regular. However, what we haven’t prepared for is permanent migration due to severe changes in climate and the environment. It’s a process under way with many from smaller Pacific islands relocating due to threats such as coastal erosion, or those within desert regions requiring to abandon their homes because of the increased reality of droughts.

Migration is a massive burden for LGBTQ+ people. Many LGBTQ+ people are forced to flee their homes due to persecution and asylum claims for LGBTQ+ people are rarely ever accepted. The UK Home Office has a particularly poor record of offering support. The current refugee crisis has highlighted the problems facing LGBTQ+ asylum seekers and migrants. Berlin has had to create its own centre for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers as a result of abuse and hostility they were receiving from other migrants and asylum seekers.  Authorities themselves are often slow to react to LGBTQ+ hatred, and some reports have claimed they have actively engaged in it. A future where migration is a commonality as a result of climate change then is one that puts the safety of LGBTQ+ people at risk and little has been done to acknowledge this.

Berlin has had to create its own centre for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers as a result of abuse and hostility they were receiving from other migrants and asylum seekers.

Climate change is often talked about with regards to how it will impact everyone everywhere but we need to address the specific burdens that are going to target certain populations, particularly with regards to oppressed people. They are ones less likely to be able to access support so if we don’t address this issue then we’ll run out of time to be able to come up with a plan that supports the people who need it. Climate change will impact every facet of life and LGBTQ+ people are far from safe from that and it’s about time we started to acknowledge that in the community.

Follow Stephanie on Twitter (@StephFarnsworth)

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