Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Indigenous people meet to work on climate change/ Updated

We take the nation state for granted, barely aware of how large numbers of people work outside of the day-to-day life of national bureaucracies. These people, like the Lapps of Scandanavia, the Inuit of North America, the Aboriginal Australians, and San of the Kalahari, the Yanamamo of South America, or the pymies of West Africa live subsistence lives directly tied to their daily interaction with the Earth. Unsurprisingly, many of these people face incredible challenges to their culture's survival because of anthropogenic climate change.

Many of them are getting together to do something about it reports New Scientist. In a recently posted article, they report:

From Arctic Inuit to Pacific Islanders, indigenous peoples from 80 countries are meeting at a summit in Anchorage, Alaska (pdf), this week to forge a common position on climate change. They want an official voice alongside national governments in upcoming negotiations to agree a successor to the Kyoto protocol.

The meeting is emphasising indigenous peoples' histories of adapting to change. But beneath it is the fear that they will be trampled by rich countries trying to cut greenhouse emissions by managing indigenous lands.

Much of the ethical talk about climate change has focused on how the poorest people (a note on this below) in the world will be affected the most and worst by climate change. People like Dan Brown, James Garvey, and Peter Singer, organizations like the IPCC, the U.N., and too many publications to list here have been saying for years that melting ice will affect Inuits and Lapps and people in Micronesia will have their island homes flooded and they will either drown or be displaced. Many of these people have been experiencing these effects. They know what is happening to them because of modern industry and they are owed a place at the table to determine their own fates and how we invest in a common fate. This might well necessitate recalibrating the international deliberative bodies that work on climate change.

If we believe in democracy then people unaffiliated with national governments should have some voice. People with their own sovereign communities are owed fairness and justice. We owe them their survival at the very least. Currently, they are consigned to doom if we continue the status quo.

Finally, it strikes me that even calling these people poor is a misnomer. How can we call a people who have lived in these habitats - indeed evolved into these habitats as nature has selected them - poor? They are not monetarily wealthy because their purpose has not to become monied people, but people adapted to their climates and bioregions. It seems to me that we do not face an issue here of rich and poor, but an issue of the adapted and the unadapted. We have developed such maladaptive behaviors that the well-adapted are being selected out. How is that selection happening?

There are at least two versions at work. The Inuit and Lapps are facing melting tundra such that muddy and unpassable morasses make it extremely difficult or impossible for disparate groups to visit one another. Those with industrially-desirable resources are being face industrial theft and displacement. As New Scientist reports

Forest dwellers such as the Dayak tribe of Borneo or the pygmies of Cameroon fear they will be dispossessed by forest developers rushing to grab carbon credits by cutting and replanting trees.

Other indigenous peoples are already being displaced as foreign companies grab "unoccupied" indigenous lands to plant biofuels or "carbon offset" trees to compensate for fossil fuel use elsewhere.

"We're having the hardest time we've faced in 500 years," says Dennis Martinez, an ecologist and O'odham (Pima) Indian at the meeting. He says indigenous peoples living off natural resources could be highly resilient to climate change – but not if their cultures are destroyed as the rest of the world tries to respond.

Such is the cost of Western life we are to suppose. This is a call to each of us in my opinion. A call to think about how schools play into this system. I think that we need to reconsider how the schools in which we participate as students and teachers prepare us for a life that takes the natural environment of West Africa and transforms it for its own purposes instead of leaving it for the people, animals, and plants that live in West Africa. I think that if we think long and hard about it we can see that not only are we complicit in ecocide, but in (sometimes) slow culturcide and genocide. Preparing people to become the many things that we become as professionals - farmers, engineers, doctors, lawyers, politicians, plant workers, taxi cab drivers - has an ethical dimension that has been hiding and hidden from us for decades.

Now we are coming to face a problem so vast that it sometimes seems insoluble: How does what I do in the classroom continue behavior in other people that leads to unintended destruction? This might be the most awful and most important question that we as a profession face? But it's a question that we have to answer so that we can change what is into what ought to be. It seems that, at the very least, we need to engage in some sort of retracted resource use in our own lives, perhaps in our classrooms themselves, a recalibration of day-to-day activities in which schools now invest such that we are using our bodies more for their own sustenance in gardens or farming, and learning more and more from indigenous peoples who have lived within their own niches for millennia. It is time to center education on our own places.

It is time to adapt. An integrated community school can be that place.


If you want to watch the Indigenous People's Summit on Climate Change click here (artwork at right). It started on Monday, has run through today (HAPPY EARTH DAY!), and concludes tomorrow. Their summit goals are:

1. Consolidate, share and draw lessons from the views and experiences of Indigenous Peoples around the world on the impacts and effects of climate change on their ways of life and their natural environment, including responses;

2. Raise the visibility, participation and role of Indigenous Peoples in local, national, regional and international processes in formulating strategies and partnerships that engage local communities and other stakeholders to respond to the impacts of climate change;

3. Analyze, discuss and promote public awareness of the impacts and consequences of programs and proposals for climate change mitigation and adaptation, and assess proposed solutions to climate change from the perspective of Indigenous Peoples; and

4. Advocate effective strategies and solutions in response to climate change from the perspective of the cultures, world views, and traditional knowledge of Indigenous Peoples, including local, national, regional and international rights-based approaches.

I am eager to see what happens as a result of this.

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