Climate change causes prostitution? Rep. Barbara Lee explains

A woman bathes her daughter in Puerto Inirida, Colombia, part of the oldest intact tropical forest in the world.
A woman bathes her daughter in Puerto Inirida, Colombia. U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Oakland) fears that climate change will bring about a rise in poverty that will push more women into the sex trade as an alternative to starvation.
(Mauricio Duenas Castaneda / EPA)
<i>This post has been corrected, as indicated below.</i>

Climate change is causing glaciers to melt, heat waves to become more intense, species to become extinct and low-lying island nations like Tuvalu to disappear altogether. To this list of calamities, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee has added another: Climate change could force more women to become prostitutes.

That warning is contained in a resolution the California Democrat introduced in Congress on Friday. In House Concurrent Resolution 36, Rep. Lee and 11 co-sponsors note that warming temperatures could push as many as 3 billion people into poverty by the year 2050. Some of those people may be women looking for any possible way to provide for themselves and their children.

“Food-insecure women with limited socioeconomic resources may be vulnerable to situations such as sex work, transactional sex, and early marriage that put them at risk for HIV, STIs [sexually transmitted infections], unplanned pregnancy, and poor reproductive health,” according to the resolution.

The document’s purpose is to call attention to the ways that women are vulnerable to climate change. In poor and developing countries, it will become more difficult for women to grow and collect food and water for their families. Natural disasters fueled by climate change will force many women and children to become refugees. Malaria and other epidemics loom.


But predictably, the online coverage has focused on sex.

“Democrats: Global warming means more hookers,” according to Tucker Carlson’s website, the Daily Caller.

“Climate Change Causes Prostitution? Congressional Leaders Say Yes,” writes Latinos Post.

“It’s unfortunate that this resolution has been misrepresented as to its goals,” Lee told the Los Angeles Times via email. “Tragically, as women across the world are pushed to the margins, they become more vulnerable. And we’ve seen time after time that women on the edge are forced to make heartbreaking choices, this among them.”


Lee, who represents Berkeley, Oakland and other parts of the East Bay, originally introduced this resolution in 2009. She introduced it again last week in recognition of Earth Week (an extended version of Earth Day).

The resolution was introduced to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce with 11 Democratic co-sponsors, including Lois Capps, Michael Honda and Jackie Speier of California, Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum of Minnesota, Steve Israel and Carolyn B. Maloney of New York, Raul Grijalva of Arizona, Henry C. Johnson of Georgia, Janice Schakowsky of Illinois and Donna Christensen of the Virgin Islands. There’s no word yet on whether the committee will consider it, Lee said.

You can read the resolution online here.

Return to Science Now.

[For the Record, 3 p.m. PST Nov. 18: An earlier version of this post said the House resolution claimed global warming could push 3 million people into poverty. The resolution puts the figure at 3 billion.]


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