I don't claim to know exactly what's going on with Idle No More, the surging movement of indigenous activists that started late last year in Canada and is now spreading across the continent—much of the action, from hunger strikes to road and rail blockades, is in scattered and remote places, and even as people around the world plan for solidarity actions on Friday, the press has done a poor job of bringing it into focus.
But I sense that it's every bit as important as the Occupy movement that transfixed the world a year ago; it feels like it wells up from the same kind of long-postponed and deeply felt passion that powered the Arab Spring. And I know firsthand that many of its organizers are among the most committed and skilled activists I've ever come across.
In fact, if Occupy's weakness was that it lacked roots (it had to take over public places, after all, which proved hard to hold on to), this new movement's great strength is that its roots go back farther than history. More than any other people on this continent, Native Americans know what exploitation and colonization are all about, and so it's natural that at a moment of great need they're leading the resistance to the most profound corporatization we've ever seen. I mean, we've just come off the hottest year ever in America, the year when we broke the Arctic ice cap; the ocean is 30 percent more acidic than it was when I was born.
Thanks to the same fossil fuel industry that's ripping apart aboriginal lands, we're at the very end of our rope as a species; it's time, finally, to listen to the people we've spent the last five centuries shunting to one side.
A tradition of defending the land
Eighteen months ago, when we at the climate campaign 350.org started organizing against the Keystone XL pipeline, the very first allies we came across were from the Indigenous Environmental Network—people like Tom Goldtooth and Clayton Thomas-Muller. They'd been working for years to alert people to the scale of the devastation in Alberta's tar sands belt, where native lands had been wrecked and poisoned by the immense scale of the push to mine "the dirtiest energy on earth." And they quickly introduced me to many more—heroes like Melina Laboucan-Massimo, a member of the Cree Nation who was traveling the world explaining exactly what was going on.
When, in late summer 2011, we held what turned into the biggest civil disobedience action in 30 years in the U.S., the most overrepresented group were indigenous North Americans—in percentage terms they outnumbered even the hardy band of Guilty Liberals like me. And what organizers! Heather Milton-Lightning, night after night training new waves of arrestees; Gitz Crazyboy of Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, absolutely on fire as he described the land he could no longer hunt and fish.
In the year since, the highlights of incessant campaigning have been visits to Canada, always to see native leaders in firm command of the fight—Dene National Chief Bill Erasmus in Yellowknife, or Chief Reuben George along the coast of British Columbia. Young and powerful voices like Caleb Behn, from the province's interior; old and steady leaders in one nation after another. I've never met Chief Theresa Spence, the Attawapiskat leader whose hunger strike has been the galvanizing center of Idle No More, but I have no doubt she's cut of the same cloth.
The stakes couldn't be higher, for Canada and for the world. Much of this uprising began when Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper rammed through Parliament Bill C-45, an omnibus bill gutting environmental reviews and protections. He had no choice but to do so if he wanted to keep developing Canada's tar sands, because there's no way to mine and pipe that sludgy crude without fouling lakes and rivers. (Indeed, a study released a few days ago made clear that carcinogens had now found their way into myriad surrounding lakes). And so, among other things, the omnibus bill simply declared that almost every river, stream and lake in the country was now exempt from federal environmental oversight.
Canada's environmental community protested in all the normal ways—but they had no more luck than, say, America's anti-war community in the run up to Iraq. There's trillions of dollars of oil locked up in Alberta's tarsands, and Harper's fossil-fuel backers won't be denied.
First Nations rush to stop climate change
But there's a stumbling block they hadn't counted on, and that was the resurgent power of the aboriginal nations. Some Canadian tribes have signed treaties with the British Crown, and others haven't, but none have ceded their lands and all feel their inherent rights are endangered by Harper's power grab. They are, legally and morally, all that stand in the way of Canada's total exploitation of its vast energy and mineral resources, including the tar sands, the world's second largest pool of carbon. NASA's James Hansen has explained that burning that bitumen on top of everything else we're combusting will mean it's "game over for the climate." Which means, in turn, that Canada's First Nations are in some sense standing guard over the planet.
And, luckily, the sentiment is spreading south. Tribal nations in the U.S., though sometimes with less legal power than their Canadian brethren, are equally effective organizers—later this month, for instance, an international gathering of indigenous peoples and a wide-ranging list of allies on the Yankton Sioux territory in South Dakota may help galvanize continued opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, which would help wreck those tar sands by carrying the oil south (often across reservations) to the Gulf of Mexico. American leaders like Winona LaDuke of the White Earth Indian Reservation have joined in the fight with a vengeance, drawing the connections between local exploitation and global climate change.
Corporations and governments have often discounted the power of native communities—because they were poor and scattered in distant places, they could be ignored or bought off. But in fact their lands contain much of the continent's hydrocarbon wealth—and, happily, much of its wind, solar and geo-thermal resources, as well. The choices that Native people make over the next few years will be crucial to the planet's future—and Idle No More is an awfully good sign that the people who have spent the longest in this place are now rising artfully and forcefully to its defense.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Between 2000 and 2013, Earth lost an area of undisturbed ecosystems roughly the size of Mexico.
- Planting Projects, Backyard Habitats Can Re-Create Livable Natural ... ›
- Humans Are Destroying Wildlife at an Unprecedented Rate, New ... ›
- UN Biodiversity Chief: Humans Risk Living in an 'Empty World' With ... ›
- Scientists Warn Worse Pandemics Are on the Way if We Don't ... ›
- Coronavirus Pandemic Linked to Destruction of Wildlife and World's ... ›
By Stuart Braun
"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
- The Vicious Climate-Wildfire Cycle - EcoWatch ›
- How Climate Change Ignites Wildfires From California to South Africa ›
- 31 Dead, 250,000 Evacuated in California Fires as Governor ... ›
World's Richest One Percent Are Producing More Than Double the Carbon Emissions as the Bottom 50 Percent
A new report from Oxfam found that the wealthiest one percent of the world produced a carbon footprint that was more than double that of the bottom 50 percent of the world, The Guardian reported. The study examined 25 years of carbon dioxide emissions and wealth inequality from 1990 to 2015.
If you are taking medication for an underactive thyroid, check your prescription.