Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The Sami Indigenous People and Climate Change

Climate change is in the news a lot these days, especially since it is all but accepted wisdom that the rate of change (but not the change itself) is a result of human actions. Well, we know that the climate change is causing certain impacts to people here in the U.S., from more frequent and stronger hurricanes, to more flooding in the Midwest, to an erosion of beach front land, to a drought in the West that has been going on for close to 5 years now. But how about in other parts of the world?

Well, here is a little news from up north on the Sami indigenous people. Ole Henrik Magga, former leader for the UN Permanent Forum of Indigenous Peoples is concerned that climate change adds a further weight to existing threats to indigenous peoples. “It is like pushing a sinking person even deeper”, he says in an interview with the Norwegian broadcasting association (NRK). Reindeer herding is one of the principal industries for Sami peoples. As temperatures increase on Finnmarksvidda as result of climate change, forest cover increases, encroaching on reindeer pastures (not to mention that the permafrost is reduced, an essential component to reindeer ecology). The Norwegian government has warned Sami peoples that they will need to adapt to climate change. But Magga is concerned. “The Indigenous peoples themselves cannot stop the pollution. We also have a responsibility, but to push the entire responsibility on the poorest and most vulnerable and with the least power is wrong. The main responsibility must lie with the governments” says Magga.

I agree with Magga, the Sami have little they can do other than change how they have been for hundreds and even thousands of years. Not an easy thing to do. And sure, the governments need to step up and begin taking action (especially the U.S. and now China). However, I really think the action needs to begin on the individual level. Governments, however corrupt they are, are still generally following the will of the people. If people keep consuming at the rate they do, then the governments will not stop climate change for they do not want to jeopardize their economies. Consumption drives the U.S. economy. It drives the Chinese economy, and most others. What needs to happen is that individuals need to learn that having the newest toy (i.e., i-phone) is only causing things to get worse. Sure, with the i-phone you can listen to music, watch videos, and make calls, but pretty soon you are going to have to do all of that from a underground cave as Mother Earth rears her powers up and causes some severe destruction.

The Sami, Inuit, Eskimo, and other indigenous peoples of the Arctic region are feeling the brunt of climate change right now. Do we need to wait until it hits us down here in the mid-latitudes before we do anything? That would be too late. I personally don't need the new i-phone or any other superficial gadgets (besides, who wants a bunch of stuff hanging off their belt?). My phone that I have had for the past 8 years works just fine. Indigenous people's teach us a lot these days, and here is another fine example. Let's begin to listen before it becomes too late.

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