Bangladesh is Drowning: A Lesson in Climate Change

Antara MurshedAntara Murshed is a senior environmental science major.

What does the average American think of when they hear ‘Bangladesh’? Surrounded by India on three sides and the Bay of Bengal in the South, it’s the 12th most densely populated country in the world. If you shop at H&M, Gap or Zara, it is very likely your clothes were made in Bangladesh, as the garment industry is the biggest export in the country. Musicians Ravi and Shankar and George Harrison put together the Concert for Bangladesh in order to raise humanitarian efforts for Bengali refugees during the 1971 Bangladesh genocide carried out by former West Pakistan’s armed forces. It was an international benefit concert, the first of its kind.

Bangladesh has the world’s largest freshwater delta, resulting in 7.6 million hectares of arable land. The Sundarbans, home to the Bengal tiger and the world’s largest mangrove forest, also reside in Bangladesh. Like many other rapidly urbanizing countries in the global south, Bangladesh has a large population (143 million and increasing) and despite being one of the poorer countries in the world, and owning a growing economy. However, Bangladesh’s trove of natural resources, expanding economy and relatively recent political and cultural independence from Pakistan, most of the country will be lost to the consequences of global warming and sea level rise within this next century. Unfortunately, this is only one striking example of how people of less economic means all over the world will be disproportionately affected by environmental disasters and climate change.

Sea level is estimated to rise approximately 6 feet globally in the next century, according to a National Geographic report in 2014. Most of Bangladesh is no more than 5 feet above current sea level. The increased rate of sea level rise has been happening because of global warming. Global warming occurs from increased greenhouse gas emissions like carbon dioxide and methane. The top emitters of carbon dioxide in 2014 according to the Environmental Protection Agency are China, the United States, and the European Union. The largest environmental culprits will not be the people who are affected the most by environmental disasters. Take Flint, Michigan for example. Gross oversight from city government resulted in a city with mostly poorer, people of color receiving lead exposure from their water supply.

Environmental disasters are going to disproportionately affect people who do not have the resources to fight the forces causing anthropogenic climate change. The land my family has lived on for generations will soon be completely flooded by rising level. Hundreds of millions of people will become displaced and within the next two generations after me, land my ancestors have lived on for thousands of years will physically cease to exist. With economically empowered countries benefiting from I really don’t see the world coming together to aid a densely populated country in South Asia from going underwater. While I, and the over 143 million Bangladeshis are grappling with the loss of the origin of our heritage and history, the least the rest of the world could do is acknowledge the urgency of climate change and environmental disasters around the world and do something about it. Because the current systems of addressing climate change are simply not effective and the right people need to be held accountable.

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