Climate Change and Native Communities
With only five percent of the global population, the United States already is the largest energy market in the world as well as the largest producer of the greenhouse gases and the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for global warming.
Evidence of human induced climate change is abundant. The earth's snow cover has decreased by 10% since the late 1960s, and since the 1990s, the thickness of arctic sea ice from late summer to early autumn has decreased by 40%. As a consequence of ice melt, sea level is on the rise- .2 meters overall, and as a result, the prevalence of waterborne and airborne diseases is exploding. Moreover, insects that devour trees are now able to reproduce prolifically. At least 4.2 million acres of the Alaskan forest are dying off from the spruce beetle infestation, an insect that, due to the mild weather, is now able to "clutch" (i.e. lay eggs) twice during a year and has laid to waste a good portion of the spruce forests. As well, new vector-borne diseases are increasing. West Nile Virus is thriving and spreading along the East Coast and Great Plains and is a signal for those viruses and diseases to come.
The potential impacts of on our communities are far reaching. Ranging from the loss of habitat, to the rise of diseases, to the devastation of large areas of land, climate change is literally transforming our ways of living. For example, according to attorney Bob Gough, "The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that global warming will likely cause collapses of some fisheries and expansions of others. This impact will involve territorial shifts of fishery stock and may bring about changes in present ace and available species. The level of impact will vary widely, depending upon the nature and complexity of each ecosystem ...." Native people depend on marine fisheries for subsistence use and for commercial and tourist industries. Many of these fisheries rely on spawning grounds located in the Pacific Northwest, Rocky Mountains, Great Plains, Great Lakes, Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast. These areas contribute significant amounts of nutrients and pollutants to marine fisheries.
As well, tribal communities are concerned about the combined and simultaneous effect of climate change and over-fishing. "Climate changes can exacerbate the effects of over-fishing at a time of inherent instability in world fisheries. In addition, over-fishing creates an increased imbalance in the age composition of a stock and may reduce the resiliency of the population. Furthermore, changes in ocean currents may result in changes in fish population location and abundance and may lead to the loss of certain fish populations. Warming temperatures and a rising sea level will affect coastal wetlands and other valuable fisheries habitat, because some 70% of global fish resources depend on near shore or estuarine habitats at some point in their life cycle.... A rising sea would increase pollution by lifting the water table in low lying areas near the coast, releasing contaminants from dump sites, and viruses and bacteria from septic systems in to coastal waters and waterways...."
Indigenous Peoples on a worldwide scale have been quite concerned about these impacts. The Native Peoples/Native Homelands Climate Change Workshop (l998), followed by the Second Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (2000), led to international dialogue on the issue. The Indigenous representatives were unanimous in their recommendations. The resulting Hague Declaration made a series of procedural and substantive recommendations including:
* Calls for full participation in climate change related negotiations and decision-making with relevance to Indigenous Peoples;
* Concerns about the exploitation of indigenous resources used by the developed countries both in contributing to CO2 emissions
(fossil fuels) and as potential carbon sinks (forest and plantations) as part of the so-called Clean Development Mechanisms
* Restoration of habitat previously devastated by national and international development;
* Creation of a climate impact fund to deal with impacts in accord with traditional and customary cultures and lifestyles; and
* Increased application of renewable energy technologies in the developed and developing world.
Intertribal COUP is taking the lead and plans to challenge the Bush Administration on global climate change. With only 4-5% of the world's population, the U.S. produces around 25% of the world's greenhouse gases. By not signing the Kyoto Accord, then, the U.S. creates a huge gap in the international convention to decrease carbon emissions. "Some tribal leaders should go to Washington and say, 'We volunteer,' just like we do most of the time in terms of the war," Gough suggests. "Tribal wind energy production could entirely enable the U.S. to reach the levels expected in the Kyoto Accords, and tribes could just do it, like the Navajo Code talkers, and all of the other turning points for the U.S." Intertribal COUP is a part of a campaign called energy independence day that is aimed at matching volunteer reductions in Kyoto Protocol by cities paired with renewable energy production by tribes.
Honor the Earth believes that for the health of our planet, a change in United States energy policy is essential. For the survival of Indigenous communities, tribes must be brought to the forefront of energy and climate justice.