Environment | Opinion

Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Tribes need to lead climate change reform

A view of the Quinault Nation in Washington, where the village of Taholah might be relocated due to climage change threats. Photo from Taholah Village Relocation Master Plan

Dina Gilio-Whitaker of the Center for World Indigenous Studies says tribes should take the lead on climate change policy in the United States:
As ICTMN reported recently, indigenous peoples will be at the forefront of upcoming United Nations and civil society events in New York City. The long anticipated, one and a half day World Conference on Indigenous Peoples will be immediately followed by a one day United Nations Climate Summit. Immediately preceding the Summit is a three day Climate Convergence conference and march in which indigenous groups like #Idle No More And International Indian Treaty Council are taking a lead role.

Unlike a decade ago, climate change is no longer a topic limited to the ranting of left-wing radicals and only the daftest of fools continue to deny its reality. The evidence is staring us in the face with each new catastrophic weather event and satellite image of melting polar ice caps. And scientists and politicians alike know that indigenous peoples are the canaries in the proverbial coal mine. Climate refugees are by and large indigenous peoples from island nations and other low-lying regions being inundated by rising seas, to say nothing of those displaced by famine and drought from changing weather patterns.

No one is unaffected, even in the so-called “first world.” Fourth World nations are on the frontlines of climate disaster; the Quinault Nation received a sobering wake-up call earlier this year when a state of emergency was declared after a seawall breach caused severe flooding. Northwest coast tribes are also affected by a disastrous decline in shellfish due to ocean acidification. The Columbia River plateau region is expected to become more vulnerable to drought, warmer summer temperatures, and more extreme weather episodes. Earlier snowmelt and reductions in snowpack will stress some reservoir systems, and increased stress on groundwater systems will lead to a decrease in recharge and ultimately decreases in salmon populations.

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Dina Gilio-Whitaker: Tribes Need to Push Climate Change Reform Now (Indian Country Today 9/16)

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