Increasing forest fires, dwindling water supply, melting Arctic ice that makes hunting and other traditional activities dangerous, and forced relocation are just some of the effects of climate change on indigenous communities that are outlined in President Barack Obama’s Third U.S. National Climate Assessment, released on May 6.
“The consequences of observed and projected climate change have and will undermine indigenous ways of life that have persisted for thousands of years,” said the report in introducing Chapter 12, which deals exclusively with the effects of climate change on indigenous communities. “Key vulnerabilities include the loss of traditional knowledge in the face of rapidly changing ecological conditions, increased food insecurity due to reduced availability of traditional foods, changing water availability, Arctic sea ice loss, permafrost thaw, and relocation from historic homelands.”
This is not news to those in the thick of things, but it is yet one more acknowledgement by the Obama administration that Indigenous Peoples are among those bearing the brunt of the changes that are already under way.
The report, one of the cornerstones of the Climate Action Plan that Obama put forth last June, painted a stark picture of the changes taking place across the United States and how they are having a detrimental effect not only health but also on the economy.
“This report confirms that climate change is affecting Americans in every region of the U.S. and key sectors of the national economy,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said in a statement commenting on the report’s release. “These findings underscore the need for urgent action to combat the threats from climate change, protect American citizens and communities today, and build a healthy, sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.”
Breaking down the effects in nine geographic regions of the U.S. over every state and territory, the report discusses the danger to the 64 million people living in the Northeast; the water issues plaguing the southeast and Caribbean islands, highlighting their vulnerability to stronger extreme weather such as hurricanes; the threat to agricultural lands in the Midwest; rising temperatures in the Plains states, and the increases frequency and intensity of wildfires in the Southwest, the “hottest and driest region in the United States,” the report said. The Northwest, Hawaii and Pacific islands, Alaska and the coastal regions as a whole are also suffering different symptoms of this phenomenon, Obama said.
The changes affect health, transportation, energy, water, agriculture, ecosystems and oceans, the White House said. The report also outlines trends in temperature, extreme weather, sea level rises, ocean acidification, frost-free seasons, precipitation, severe storms and other dangers that are attributable to climate change’s effects. No area of life is untouched, the Administration emphasized.
“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report said in its introduction. “This report documents the changes already observed and those projected for the future.”
Specifically in indigenous regions, this means an exacerbation of factors that feed into poverty, malnutrition, scarce or substandard housing and a loss of cultural traditions.
“Climate change poses particular threats to Indigenous Peoples’ health, well- being, and ways of life,” the report said. “Chronic stresses such as extreme poverty are being exacerbated by climate change impacts such as reduced access to traditional foods, decreased water quality, and increasing exposure to health and safety hazards. In parts of Alaska, Louisiana, the Pacific Islands, and other coastal locations, climate change impacts (through erosion and inundation) are so severe that some communities are already relocating from historical homelands to which their traditions and cultural identities are tied. Particularly in Alaska, the rapid pace of temperature rise, ice and snow melt, and permafrost thaw are significantly affecting critical infrastructure and traditional livelihoods.”