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The US Fails on Climate Change – Indigenous Peoples Threatened

Published: July 23, 2010, Author: MHirch

As I suggested about a year ago, shortly after the US House of Representatives passed its version of climate change legislation, the Senate will fail to move on a Bill, and the whole federal effort will stop dead in its tracks.  Today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the climate bill is dead in this session of Congress.

This circumstance leaves the US Environmental Protection Agency as the only federal entity able to act on carbon dioxide and green house gas emission reductions. Republican and Democratic Senators now turn to target this agency to prevent government regulation of emissions.

This circumstance also leaves the states in the position of defining the rules, regulations and standards for climate change mitigation and adaption.

Finally, this puts the Climate Change Treaty Negotiations to meet in Cancun, Mexico this December in a shambles…much the same as in Copenhagen last year.

The failure of the United States of America to responsibly advance constructive climate mitigation and adaption strategies is a major problem for the US, indigenous peoples and the international community. Corporate and other narrow interests have utterly compromised the US position.  Power companies, coal mine operations, oil companies, automobile companies, and even industrial farms are all part of the mosaic of interests undermining the political will to effectively address the adverse affects of climate change. Parochial interests combined with global energy have completely undermine the ability of the US government to act.  Political dysfunction is rapidly driving the decision-making process into the mud.

Indigenous peoples are, in this observer’s view, at greater risk now than ever before.  Indigenous peoples must take the initiative to set new rules, regulations and their own cultural standards for ecosystems where they reside.  Instead of depending on the states’ government authorities and organization to formulate favorable policies they must preempt the international community and the local state authorities or they will be overwhelmed by corporate driven policies that will further impose havoc in indigenous territories.  As this view suggests, failure to initiate effective responses to the adverse affects of climate change in indigenous territories by indigenous communities threatens all populations.  The onus is on indigenous leaders to initiate their own authority where climate change mitigation and adaptation has the greatest effect: the local ecosystem.

I hear everyone say, “We need money!” I don’t deny that, but the will to act must precede the money.  If there is no will, then there is no action.

The most troubling, and not unexpected, circumstance in the US Senate is that there is a majority (Republican and Democratic) of senators protecting energy, power, and development corporate interests.  Instead of identifying alternatives to sustain economies, the general tendency is to simply maintain the status quo.

This attitude prevails in virtually all industrialized states in the world.  Consequently, there is no willingness to negotiate alternative strategies for mitigating and adapting to the adverse affects of climate change.

Indigenous peoples have virtually no allies in states’ government legislative or administrative bodies. Failure to recognize this fact will cause serious problems for indigenous peoples’ cultures, economies and social environment in the months and years to come.

Taking independent action to protect and care for indigenous territories and communities must now be seen as essential.  Coalitions of indigenous nations should be considered to work together in similar environmental niches. Indigenous organizations must turn their attention to the midterm and long term continuity of indigenous communities and give their significant resource support to indigenous community decision-making, informing indigenous publics and supporting local regulatory, and cultural standard setting for climate mitigation and adaptation.

All of this is not to say that indigenous nations should now ignore regional, country-wide and international actions on climate change.  Indeed, it is more important now that these arenas receive attention.  Monitor and stay informed while taking independent action. The sustained existence of indigenous communities in the US and world-wide depends on indigenous peoples exercising the will to develop their own strategies for adapting to the changing climate.

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