The fact that climate change is happening all around the world is evident to everyone in possession of a working brain, and indigenous people have reported this for decades. Especially indigenous communities in circumpolar areas have warned of the devastating effects of global warming for over 40 years. As Larisa Pavlovna Adjedeva, the director of the Saami Cultural Centre in Lovozero said to the Snowchange Cooperative in 2009;
When we ask the Elders and reindeer herders for example what kind of summer it will be, how much berries to expect or what kind of fish and how much to expect they answer us that they cannot predict anything because our Sámi calendar of yearly cycle has collapsed completely because of the changes that have taken place in the nature. They cannot foresee accurately and with precision. Before we would ask the reindeer herders and the answers would be right to the mark but now the predicted times keep on moving and changing.
At the same time, however, the fact that the ones who have done the least to cause climate change in the first place, and who are hit the hardest by climate change are now also being harmed by misguided attempts to stop it is more often than not completely ignored.
The idea pervading Western society at the moment is that nature has to be saved, but what Western society seems to forget at the same time is that as the very society that brought about the biggest climate change in millions of years perhaps need to get its head out of its arse and listen to communities that have lived sustainably for millennia when it comes to the issue of ‘saving our nature’.
Indeed, what very few people know is that two of Western societies most common measures taken to halt climate change, the production of biofuels and the building of hydroelectric dams, are directly hurting indigenous peoples around the world.
While using biofuels, often produced from sugar canes, does diminish the emission of greenhouse gases, it does at the same time contribute directly to the destruction of indigenous peoples’ ancestral homelands and the diversity of floras and faunas around the world. As Amilton Lopez stated in 2008,
The big sugar cane plantations are now occupying our land. Sugar cane is polluting our rivers and killing our fish. [It is increasing] suicides, mainly among young people, alcoholism and murder
In other words, while the measures taken serve to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to a certain extent, the growing of plants to create biofuels harms nature and completely ignores the right to land and life held by the indigenous peoples living in the areas turned into massive biofuel plants. The Guarani was one of the first tribes to make contact with Europeans, they still constitute the largest tribe in Brazil and now, thanks to biofuels, the majority of them are driven from their ancestral homelands and forced to live in make-shift camps next to plantation roads, where people starve to death.
Another big threat to indigenous peoples and indeed nature is the building of hydroelectric dams; in an attempt to reduce our carbon footprint and bring down our dependency on non-renewable energy sources, hydroelectric dams, which use ‘the never-ending source of water and rivers’, thus naïvely deemed clean and safe, are hailed as a massive step forward in the fight to stop climate change. What is completely ignored, however, is the massive impact dams have on indigenous peoples around the world. To this day, the building of hydroelectric dams have forcibly displaced between 40-80 million indigenous peoples and minorities from their ancestral homelands, leaving these people, to quote International Rivers, ‘economically, culturally and psychologically devastated’. From the Ethiopian Gibe III dam to the building of the Murum and Bakun in Indonesia and Malaysia, hydroelectric dams destroy indigenous peoples lives, while being hailed as great investments for ‘nature’.
Any attempt to halt climate change has to involve indigenous peoples; without drawing on and using the centuries of knowledge held by indigenous peoples with regards to the areas they inhabit, we cannot ‘save the planet’. Western activism tries to turn itself into false custodians of nature, while completely ignoring the fact that indigenous people, by virtue of relying on their ancestral homelands for their survival, already make great custodians of the same.
Western climate activism also has a troubling tendency of turning the ‘saving of the planet’ into a capitalist project. One obvious example of this was the creation of the UN REDD (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) schemes. Rather than listening to the valid concerns raised by indigenous communities inhabiting forests faced by deforestation, these schemes turn indigenous ancestral homelands into cash cows for the world’s states, if they can prove that their forests are free from human presence. In other words, in order to get UN funding to protect forests already in the custody of indigenous communities, many states forcibly evict indigenous communities from their homes, thereby using ‘green rhetoric’ to justify the violation of indigenous peoples’ human rights.
Before the 2009 Copenhagen meeting, the International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change stated that
‘REDD will increase the violation of our human rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts,’
but few if any people recognised these valid points at the time and to this day, REDD does not recognise indigenous peoples’ rights.
But I guess to Western society it looks great on paper; kill the indigene and save the forest.