Climate change and its effects have been felt across the globe, with rising sea levels, increasingly devastating natural disasters, and extreme temperatures affecting people everywhere. Latin America, like many other places, faces unique challenges with respect to climate change. Many industries are facing unpredictable conditions that can end up leaving already vulnerable populations with less than they started with. Recovering from natural disasters can take years, if it happens at all before the next natural disaster hits.
Caribbean nations, such as Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and Cuba, have been extremely vulnerable to hurricanes in recent years. Hurricane Maria caused massive devastation to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017, with the estimated damage totaling around $90 billion. Puerto Rico has also struggled to recover from the hurricane, leaving it more vulnerable to subsequent natural disasters. Hurricane Fiona is exemplary of this, since many people across the island have been unable to recover from Maria in the first place, even five years after the historic storm hit. Like many other Latin American nations, Puerto Rico does not have the funds to properly recover from these natural disasters, which leaves many people without the infrastructure they need to be safe in another natural disaster. Many people, such as Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s grandmother, have been left without proper roofs over their heads, if at all, leaving them exposed to the dangers of another storm. Day-to-day life has also been interrupted by the damage that has been made to other forms of infrastructure such as roads and schools. In addition, the privatization of many services, such as electricity by the government’s handover of the power grid to LUMA Energy in 2021, also leaves more people without the services they need during critical times. Specifically, LUMA has not updated much of its infrastructure, which prevents many people from being able to access help when they need it.
Central America also has its fair share of issues that stem from climate change. Beans, a staple crop across many nations in Latin America, have become much harder to harvest due to unpredictable flooding and droughts that have grown increasingly common. Nicaragua, for instance, has experienced newfound challenges in recent years, as was the case in 2020 when Hurricane Eta destroyed a significant portion of the nation’s crops, leading to an increase in food insecurity. In a region that is already heavily impacted by poverty, food insecurity caused by climate change across Central America can create issues that are much more permanent and dangerous than before.
Many vulnerable people are also being sidelined and ignored by their government and by big industries while climate change is affecting their area. Most recently, the drought in Mexico has left many people without water, while beer breweries, such as the ones owned by Heineken, continue to have access to a stable water supply. This leaves many people in danger of dehydration while big industries can continue to make a profit at the expense of the health and well-being of the people around them. Brazil is one of the nations most notable for prioritizing big industries and profit over the safety of its people, specifically because they continue to allow rapid deforestation in the Amazon for the sake of the meat and soy industries. The practices of chopping down trees and intentionally starting forest fires have also negatively affected indigenous peoples who live in the Amazon rainforest. Even though many tribes have legal ownership of their land, they have nonetheless seen huge increases in the deforestation of their home despite the fact that their land should be untouched by both the government and private industries alike.
Latin America is home to many people who are already vulnerable to different issues outside of climate change, such as poverty and gang violence. However, climate change has created many more issues for people who are already struggling and has increased the severity of others like food insecurity. Without significant change, many people will continue to suffer the devastating consequences of climate change for their homes because of a lack of access to support from their government or outside organizations.