Climate Corner: With climate justice for all

Oct 23, 2021 in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel

Giulia Mannarino

Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner

The climate crisis is not just an environmental issue; it is also an ethical, social and political issue. An online article published in July 2020, by the Yale Climate Connection, gives the following definition of climate justice; “Climate justice is a term, and more than that a movement, that acknowledges climate change can have differing social, economic, public health and other adverse impacts on underprivileged populations.” The fact that historically marginalized groups throughout the world: people of color; indigenous people; people with disabilities; the elderly; women; children; and households with low income are impacted disproportionately as climate change persists is now a more significant part of the global warming concerns raised by the UN, the IPCC and most organized religions. This disproportionate harm is due to many factors that not only increase these underprivileged groups’ exposure to the unhealthy effects of climate change but also their susceptibility to destruction caused by its impacts. And, generally, these victims that suffer the most have a disproportionately low responsibility for the emissions that have caused this crisis.

The indigenous people of the United States were the primary caretakers of our nation’s biodiversity and totally depended on their environment for survival for thousands of years. As a marginalized community, the climate crisis impacts them perhaps the worst because this group still depends on their environment for survival from wild rice fields to salmon. This actually is a treaty right, a law of the land, guaranteed to them by our federal government for as long as the wind blows. Only since 1990, have indigenous people within the United States been formally addressing “environmental and economic justice issues.” That year an alliance of grassroots indigenous people met to discuss the environmental assaults on their communities and the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) was established. Their mission statement is “…to Protect the Sacredness of Mother Earth from contamination and exploitation by Respecting and Adhering to Indigenous Knowledge and Natural Law.” IEN’s native environmental justice movement expanded primarily in North America (Turtle Island) and, in recent years, globally. It is involved in a variety of activities.

An organizer from IEN, along with a senior research analyst from Oil Change International, authored a report that was issued in August 2021, “Indigenous Resistance Against Carbon.” For years, the Indigenous Tribal Nations of the United States and First Nations of Canada have been organizing protests, direct action and other resistance that have canceled or delayed extractive fossil fuel projects and pipelines on indigenous lands. These actions have had an impact on emissions and this report calculated how much CO2 or other green house gas emissions these canceled or delayed projects would have emitted in the last 10 years. According to the math, the indigenous resistance to pipelines and fossil fuel projects saved U.S. and Canada 12% of annual emissions or almost a billion tons of CO2 per year (.8 billion). And if indigenous people in North America were to win every fight they’re in, that amount doubles. A lot of other significant information is contained in the report including the Right of Free Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC). This right was recognized by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Persons (UNDRIP), adopted in September 2007. If it is implemented properly, indigenous persons have the right to more than consultation; they have the right to grant or withhold permission for projects that affect them or their territories. Only four countries voted against this resolution; Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States.

Oct. 11, 2021, Columbus Day, was formally recognized as Indigenous Peoples Day by President Biden. Not coincidentally, this was the first day of a largely indigenous led major mobilization, People vs. Fossil Fuels. This event was held, in Washington D.C., Oct. 11-15. An on line invitation to participate was signed, “In solidarity for the protection of Mother Earth and the next seven generations of life” by representatives of ten indigenous environmental groups throughout the United States as well as an additional four environmental justice organizations located in Texas, Louisiana, California and (Stop the MVP) Appalachia. The two main sponsors were IEN and the Build Back Fossil Free Coalition which was organized shortly after Biden’s election and includes hundreds and hundreds of national, regional, state and local organizations (including MOVCA) that want fossil free solutions to Build Back Better. People vs. Fossil Fuels focused on President Biden’s authority to stop fossil fuels and included two demands: (1) President Biden must stop approving fossil fuel projects and speed the end of the fossil fuel era and (2) President Biden must declare a national climate emergency and launch a just, renewable energy revolution. Both demands included specific actions as well as background and rationale. Non-violent civil disobedience, a time tested tactic which has been a part of every movement for social change, was an essential part of the event. A total of 655 civil arrests, of both indigenous and non-native persons, of various ages and genders, were made by police during the week.

In the 1970s, I spent a summer near Cherry Creek, S.D., on the Cheyenne River Reservation. While there, I was invited to attend a Sun Dance Ceremony, an important sacred ritual of nearly all Plains tribes. Prior to the ceremony, a participant dancer spoke about a major difference between the world views of Western colonial culture and indigenous traditional culture, which influenced how the two groups interacted with the world around them. The basic difference, explained the speaker, is that free will and reason are seen as a blessing by the Western colonial world view and proof that man is superior to and most important of all species. However, free will and reason are seen as a curse by the indigenous traditional world view and proof that man is inferior to and least important of all species. The traditional viewpoint is that free will and reason make life more difficult and confusing compared to other species that operate by instinct.

Many websites are available that compare the world views of indigenous traditional and Western colonial cultures, some with ominous names such as “Indigenous Corporate Training.” The many differences are always direct opposites. In the indigenous culture; community is foremost; the future tense is dominant; ownership is communal; soft spoken words carry farthest; the land/resources are sacred and given by the creator for use by all. In the Western culture: individualism is foremost; the present tense is dominant; ownership is personal; emphasis carries the day; the land/resources are for development and extraction for the benefit of humans. This difference in world view will always exist. As one of the indigenous participants of People vs. Fossil Fuels stated during a news segment, “Our infrastructure is land, water, air and people.”

Climate justice is a multifaceted issue and this column seems limited in its review of it. It touches on aspects of climate justice without elucidating finer details. It only discusses indigenous people of North America; however, there are other underprivileged groups in the U.S. as well as across the globe. And each group has its own story regarding environmental wrongs. Also, very little was written about the intent and activities of a five-day historic event. Despite these omissions, it is obvious which world view will take better care of our planet for future generations.


Giulia Mannarino is vice-chairperson of Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action.