Environment | Opinion

Opinion: Climate change report shows threat to Native peoples

Attorney Tim Seward urges a deeper read of the Third National Climate Assessment: Climate Change Impacts in the United States to learn about threats to Native communities:
The Climate Assessment presents twelve major findings, each of which is supported by a substantial amount of evidence. One of the major findings is: “Climate change poses particular threats to Indigenous Peoples’ health, well-being, and ways of life.” The evidence supporting this finding is presented in Chapter 12 of the Climate Assessment, which is captioned “Indigenous Peoples, Lands, and Resources.” This chapter states that climate change impacts on many tribes “are projected to be especially severe,” and that “adaptive responses to multiple social and ecological challenges arising from climate impacts on indigenous communities will occur against a complex backdrop of centuries-old cultures already stressed by historical events and contemporary conditions.” This chapter also observes that Native populations are vulnerable to climate change impacts “because their physical, mental, intellectual, social, and cultural well-being is traditionally tied to a close relationship with the natural world, and because of their dependence on the land and resources for basic needs such as medicine, shelter, and food.”

Chapter 12 highlights a range of climate change impacts with particularly severe effects on tribal communities. These impacts are presented as five “key messages” about the ways that climate change is causing: (1) reduced access to traditional foods, due to factors such as warmer temperatures, more frequent droughts, and longer fire seasons; (2) decreasing water quality and quantity, and less predictability as to availability, due to factors such as reduced rainfall and snowfall, melting glaciers, and shifts in ocean currents; (3) declining sea ice, which is causing a variety of impacts in Alaska; (4) thawing permafrost, which is damaging infrastructure and stressing cultural traditions in Alaska; and (5) relocation, in Alaska and among other coastal tribal communities.

Get the Story:
Tim Seward: The National Climate Assessment Turns Up the Heat on Governments to Prepare and Adapt (Indian Country Today 6/20)