The intersection between the care crisis and the climate crisis is evident, and the pandemic has only made the existing strain worse. Though the care crisis is a complex phenomenon, the main view of the crisis I will focus on in this analysis is that the care crisis stems from the deregulation of domestic care workers and the unequal burden of care that falls on women. The climate crisis refers to long-term shifts in temperatures and weather patterns, which have been caused by human actions such as burning fossil fuels that generate greenhouse gas emissions (United Nations, 2022). Both the care crisis and climate crisis disproportionately affect socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. For example, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean has shown that it is women who, whether paid or unpaid, bear the greatest caregiving burden in the countries that the commission analyzed. As the climate continues to fall into crisis, several health issues have arisen from fluctuating extreme temperatures and natural disasters that have stemmed from the climate crisis.
According to the World Health Organization, climate change is the biggest health threat facing humanity (WHO, 2022). As of now, global heating of 1.5 degrees Celsius is not considered safe, and every additional tenth of a degree of warming of the planet will take a serious toll on health overall (WHO, 2022). The irony of it all is that those who have been disproportionately affected by the health consequences of climate change are people of lower socioeconomic status, who contribute the least to its causes. Overall, health issues that can stem from climate change-related causes are illnesses from extreme weather events, an increase in zoonotic and vector-borne illnesses, respiratory issues due to deteriorating air quality, and mental health concerns (WHO, 2022). Unfortunately, the most at-risk populations are the most socially vulnerable already, such as women, children, ethnic minorities, poor communities, migrants, elderly, and people with underlying health conditions and comorbidities (WHO, 2022). In fact, projections show regional reductions in total DALYs due to chronic and hidden hunger due to food insecurity caused by climate change, especially in Sub-saharan Africa (Sulser, 2021). Overall, the climate crisis poses a profound and alarming threat to human health.
As the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us, our care systems and infrastructure are already teetering with overuse, poor worker treatment, burnout, and inequality. The pandemic has worsened the care crisis and has specifically affected paid domestic workers by making them more vulnerable and not protected by a deregulated system (ECLAC, 2020). Our care system may not be able to handle yet another, more prolonged global crisis caused by climate change. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic has proved that a global health crisis can halt the entire global economy, which means it is reasonable to say a health crisis caused by climate change will do the same. A report by The Lancet supports this claim, saying that just like the pandemic, climate change can and will overwhelm global healthcare systems (Tripathi, 2020).
Because of the similarities between the global pandemic and global health crisis caused by climate change, the gender disparities in the care crisis amplified by the pandemic will also translate to the climate crisis. The OECD’s 2020 “Risks that Matter” survey states that mothers took on the brunt of additional unpaid care work and experienced labor market penalties and stress because of this (Caregiving in Crisis, 2021). When considering the urgency of the climate crisis and possible policy options to expand the capacity of our healthcare infrastructure, we must address this disproportionate burden of unpaid labor that will inevitably fall on women.
Though many experts and healthcare workers have identified climate change as a major threat to human health, national and global policy do not reflect this concern. There seems to be a disconnect between what experts believe is urgent and what policymakers believe is advantageous. However, many economies are built upon unpaid labor done by women, and economics dictate policy that is typically considered very important. The care crisis should be dealt with accordingly. There should be a push for gender-sensitive policies that make the care system more equitable for workers and patients. This is a timely issue, since the recovery from the global COVID-19 pandemic presents a perfect moment to form a joint response to improve public health infrastructure and our response to climate change while addressing gender and socioeconomic disparities.