We’re all future climate refugees

I will be honest, when I hear the word refugee, I tend to think of displaced people from conflict hotspots such as the Middle East and Central Africa. This is the first time that I have actually heard of climate refugees which is probably going to be more and more common given the trajectory of the Earth’s climate. Especially in the case of indigenous people, it seems that their concerns tend to get swept under the mountains problems that society has. With the ever so more warming environment and human destruction, natural habitats such as the Amazon rainforest and the Sahel are ever shrinking. With those losses come the losses of indigenous people’s way of life and homes. Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be a concern for most people until it affects them too. It’s already hard enough for war refugees to find sanctuary so how hard would it also be for climate refugees?

 

The world’s indigenous people population is a sizable amount too. According to a Reuter’s article, there are approximately 900,000 indigenous people living in Brazil. Over the last couple of decades, cattle ranchers have been attempting to take over rainforest land by clearing them to make room for grazing land. Many indigenous people’s effort to formalize landownership has been stagnated while ranchers and palm farmers aggressively wrestling for control of land. In many countries like Brazil, there are significant roadblocks to implementing land conservation and environmental laws. The corruption within governments and limited powers of law enforcement have contributed to the accelerated loss of indigenous land. This is also fueled by a huge emphasis on economic growth too.

 

Eventually, something has to be done about this. Regulations and strict governmental action are good starts to limiting habitat destruction and climate change. However, we need to think of ourselves as future climate refugees as eventually many of us will have to relocate due to rising sea levels and intensifying natural disasters. For instances, a good chunk of Florida and California will be underwater in the next century or so. It reminds me of the habitat climate change simulation that I did in biology lab; animal populations will eventually try to migrate more North and South as the Earth warms up until there is nowhere to go. I hope that is not the future of humankind.

Are we guilty until proven innocent regarding environmental justice?

I was born and raised in the state of California, but “indigenous” isn’t a word people would use to describe my birthplace. That’s understandable, considering my family did not originate on the west coast of North America. They came from Pennsylvania, and before then Ireland, then Scotland, then Norway, and so on. The point is, it’s been a long time since a member of my family could say they were natives of the area. Back then, the Earth was coming out of an ice age, allowing humans (including my ancestors) to migrate north to places once covered with glaciers. There is no denying the climate changed in the past, causing native peoples to move around the globe. Many people benefited from the change in scenery, but others certainly got left in the dust. If my understanding of environmental justice is accurate, this “injustice” of displacing indigenous peoples has been taking place since our origin. The only reason people are even on the American continents to begin with is because they came from somewhere else. So why is this phenomenon suddenly a crime? Is someone, or something, to blame for recent climate change? We typically only seek justice against those guilty of an offense, but how do we decide whose guilty and whose innocent? What if the climate were changing without human influence? Would environmental justice still be sought after today?

All of these questions were addressed, or at least touched upon, in the chapter reading. However, I’m still left with a feeling of skepticism. Yes, we know the climate is changing, and humans had their role in the matter. Specifically,  humans who had the technology and resources to produce heavy amounts of carbon and methane into the atmosphere are to blame. Indigenous peoples should not be held responsible for the actions of more developed nations. And yet, they are the ones left feeling the heat (literally!). So, what do we do with this information?

Giving aid to those cultures in need is a great idea. Supporting nonprofit organizations that help these people is a nice start. But what about after that? Which countries in particular should get involved? Who is ultimately held responsible for problems induced by climate change? America is typically the go-to nation for these sorts of matters. What about China, or Europe, or Russia? Who is going to make them chip in? Suddenly this becomes a game of politics and instead of helping the people in need, we are left fighting with one another. Guilty fingers will be pointed in all directions, and where will we be then? The climate will change with or without our successful pursuit of environmental justice. Just like with the ice age, some people will come out on top, and others left in the dust once again. Will the ones left standing be guilty by default? Even if they tried to help, could they prove themselves innocent? At the end of the day, the pursuit of environmental justice is a difficult task when any one of us could be guilty or innocent.

Climate Change Doesn’t Just Mean It’s Getting Hotter

In high school, we learned a lot about climate refugees in our climate change unit. How they are multiplying every day, and no one seems to know what to do. We can’t blame a country like you can with war refugees. You can’t even blame a singular natural disaster. These people are being forced out of their homes because of a climate that is changing a little bit every day.

It’s a delicate line to walk when talking about indigenous people – most of the world hasn’t had the greatest track record with respect in those areas. One part of the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society mentions how the world is trying to adopt rules and regulations for indigenous people and their contributions to an environmentally friendly world. However, I don’t think that is where our focus should be right now. Why don’t we focus on our factories and put some more regulations there? Move away from coal power? Indigenous people are nowhere near the top contributors to greenhouse gas emissions but the government feels like they need to regulate those people as well. Environmental regulations are a good thing to have in general of course, but it seems unnecessary right now.

That previous paragraph I think pertains mostly to America, but I think around the world countries are not doing enough to cut back on their greenhouse gas emissions.  Unfortunately, countries that contribute the most are not seeing (or at least not recognizing) the climate changing and the refugees it’s creating. Sub-saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America are the most vulnerable regions, and the majority of those places fall low on the emissions charts. America is the second-largest contributor to GHG emissions by country, and we have had massive hurricanes come through the south lately -way more than there should be. It’s time for people to notice that climate change will not only affect us in the future – it is affecting people drastically right now.

Climate Justice as an Ad Campaign?

The first time I heard the phrase “climate justice” was in a 2015 Ben and Jerry’s ad campaign, which stressed the importance of the Paris Accord. Our world is clearly full of injustices, but I cannot think of a bigger injustice than millions of people losing their home and everything they have ever known because of the way people thousands of miles away live their lives. Especially because, in some cases, the people who will be affected have no idea that anything is changing, or that their culture is in danger. The picture below is the image of the Ben and Jerry’s campaign.

Ben & Jerry's talks about Climate Justice

Traditional ecological knowledge is a vital and deep rooted part of many cultures, and as described in the context of the 2004 tsunami, it is invaluable knowledge passed down through generations. It can help with hunting, agricultural practices, and avoiding storms, in addition to the cultural significance the knowledge holds. It is tragic that this cultural knowledge passed down for hundreds of years is rapidly becoming obsolete, as the climate changes, and weather and wildlife patterns change with the rising temperature. Without that long-established awareness of the environment around these communities, especially those in coastal cities and on islands, they won’t be able to anticipate the ever worsening storms and rising sea levels.

The theory behind expanding representation around climate policy is very interesting. I am a bit confused by this reading’s explanation of climate policy, but I would be very interested to learn more about it. Again, it seems unfair that the people who are being affected by climate change the most are not the ones causing it, and also don’t really get a say in how matters dealing to climate change are addressed and handled. I can only hope we can improve our political discourse.

The Loss of A Culture

Imagine feeling that you have been wiped off the map.  I can’t.  Reading Robert Figueroa’s Indigenous Peoples and Cultural Losses, I have never felt more blissfully ignorant of my sense of entitlement.  While recent political changes have made me question if the land I’m standing on will be destroyed with nuclear warfare by a break in mutual agreements such as the Iran Nuclear Deal and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, I’ve never considered the loss of my culture due to human-based climate change.  I’ve thought about the impending loss of coastal cities in America and Europe, I’ve read about small Pacific islands wiped out from record-setting hurricanes, but I can’t say until now that I’ve ever considered a culture feeling invalidated from the loss of their land not by warfare, but by blatant disregard of the rate of climate change.

Across the globe, there are communities which persist despite the lack of awareness by others that they exist, and their indigenous lands are threatened.  in Figueroa’s text, a Kiwi woman explains, “…I’ll say, ‘Oh, I’m from Tuvalu.’  They’ll say, ‘and where’s that?’ What shall I say, ‘oh, it has disappeared or submerged under the sea because of global warming?’ So, like that’s our identity, or culture.  Everything will disappear…Definitely its going to be really hard for us to accept that we’re no longer on the map.” in other words, “Where goes the environment, so goes the culture”.  And, “Ecopsyhcologists regard this complete shift of environmental identity by loss of place to be a form of post-traumatic stress disorder”.

Nevertheless, despite the call to arms and awareness that Figueroa established, I’m left concerned with whether others can feel empathy towards strangers’ causes.  The most pressing question which stands is: How can we provide climate justice if we have yet to offer cultural justice?  Throughout the world, indigenous communities continue to be threatened, exploited, and disadvantaged.  They are disproportionately represented, yet they arguably have the most to lose.  They support a culture which remains deeply rooted in a bond with nature and the land upon which they exist and respect.  Meanwhile entire communities living in cities operate on a sense of entitlement and ignorance that the land does and always will provide for them.  That other people will always consider taking care of the land and producing food because that is their job.  It is only one part of the issue, but for as long as we disassociate ourselves from one another and from the Earth.  As long as we attribute taking care of the land to farmers and people close to the earth–people with few resources and connections to do so–the climate will continue to fail.  The proposal to change the nature with which climate is treated requires a shift in thinking from mainstream cultures, and an effort to reintegrate a respect for the world and the resources all around us into the anthropocene cultures of today.

 

Rich Planet, Poor Planet

I must start by saying this article was incredibly hard to get through. Not only were all the pages big blocks of text written in small font, but often times the syntax used in the writing made the reading incredibly dull and forgetful. I think Robert Melchior Figuera needs to retake technical writing.

 

Anyways, I appreciate the point this article is trying to make in terms of cultural maintainment and the demand for greater cultural protection for indigenous people. I hadn’t really thought about the topic much before, but this article really made me step back and think about some of the differences between an advanced society like the US versus an underdeveloped community of indigenous people. People in advanced society make the environment work for them versus indigenous people who work with the environment. I laugh when I write this because my previous sentence sounds incredibly similar to a line from a financial book called Rich Dad, Poor Dad where there is a quote that essentially says “the rich have money work for them while the poor have to work for money.” Now obviously these two cases tackle different areas, but one common idea can be taken from both: growth is dependent on one being in a place of power and dominance rather than cooperation and always doing what is ethically right. This idea naturally has some holes in it, but I think this is a mindset that humans have lived by throughout history.

 

I believe advanced society is entirely capable of returning to a point where the environment is respected and not utilized beyond repair. However, it will depend heavily on government regulatory action because let’s be honest, advanced society isn’t going to just stop caring about financial gain and isn’t going to stop ignoring the detrimental toll on the environment.

Life Is Certainly Not Fair

When I first entered the world of environmental issues, I had no idea that social issues would be extremely woven into the entire problem. Looking back, I had tons to learn and my perception of climate change issues was quite limited. I have begun to understand the wider spectrum of climate change issues including the pure environmental aspect, economic issues, and social justice problems. Today, it makes sense now that climate change would cause a cultural loss among indigenous people. However, what is the extent to which this culture loss will occur? The disproportionate effects of climate change seem unfair, but how would we fix this? Indigenous communities have the lowest contributions to carbon emissions and the like, so why exactly is it that they will suffer the most before other communities? Their vulnerability to the effects of climate change is worrisome, and more people need to be aware of this.

Indigenous communities lack the mindset which exploits their natural resources and mistreats their ecosystems. This is unlike the colonial determination to take what they want from the earth and drain its resources. In the early days, indigenous communities lacked representation, so they didn’t have the opportunity to influence decision making on environmental topics.

Cultural sustainability is a new topic for me, and it has emphasized the importance of maintaining cultural beliefs, heritage, practices, and more. Many indigenous communities way of life and culture are based upon an important relationship with nature. If this nature is negatively impacted by climate change, then it will damage their culture as well. Cultural sustainability needs to be protected, and within this category is the need for protection of ecological knowledge. From long ago, colonial oppression has tested indigenous people’s traditional knowledge. Now, we need to respect their knowledge and realize that it has come up against an entire background of injustice. Endangered languages must also be protected to prevent cultural assimilation and promote cultural sustainability.

Agriculture is a tamarisk

In Paolo Bacigalupi’s fictional piece “Tamarisk Hunter,” the dystrophic scenario of a dried-up California is used to illustrate a potential effect of climate change and irresponsible usage of water. The events in the short story eerily allude to the recent water shortages in California. Lolo is a tamarisk hunter which is a profession in which the government pays him to remove tamarisk plants to reduce their impact on the water supply. At first, I had no idea what a tamarisk was. After googling the plant, I discovered that it was an invasive species that is very prevalent in Southern California. It has the potential to use up a lot of water in its surrounding thus competes with many other native plants.

“The problem wasn’t lack of water or an excess of heat, not really. The problem was that 4.4 million acre-feet were supposed to go down the river to California. There was water; they just couldn’t touch it”

According to Lolo, there is plenty of water, but the people living in Southern California could not access it. All of the water went to people in other states and perhaps other uses such as for farming and industry. This situation is kind of metaphorical to me about how high industrial water usage is. When the droughts in recent years hit California, people were advised to reduce their consumption of water which would only solve a fraction of the water problem. According to the California Department of Water Resources, the agriculture industry contributes 80% of all water usage in California to bring in $20 billion dollars. In that sense, our commercial crops are almost like tamarisks who hog all of the water from the river for economic gains.

The scenario described is very much possible at the rate of our resource consumption. It is still possible for us to do something about global warming and water usage. I think we are definitely aware of the problem, but like Bill McKibben stated in the introduction, “science can only take us so far…Now it’s time for the rest of us.” We know of the issue, but we need to act before it is too late. The people in the story only started to “shower real fast” and try to enact change when it is too late. I think the real message of the story is to rethink our consumerism culture before “Big Daddy Drought” really comes.

That “dystopian future” is not as far in the future as we may think

Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Tamarisk Hunter” paints a bleak dystopia in which water is in extremely low supply, driving families to look to crime to secure enough fresh water for their own household. How far in the future this story lies is unknown, but it sure depicts a setting that doesn’t seem too far from what could be if we as humans continue down the path we’re on. The droughts in California that occurred only a few short years before now are indicators that a future of that sort is highly possible.

It’s terrifying to think that a resource as essential to all parts of life would be in such limited supply. It makes me feel privileged to have what feels like unlimited access to it now—it’s something myself and a lot of others definitely take for granted. The droughts in California were only a miniscule preview of what it could be like if global warming continues to get out of hand and we as humans do nothing about it. People involved felt a small inkling of responsibility to maybe take shorter showers or do less loads of laundry, but it never quite hit home like this story. Bacigalupi wrote this story to insight fear in his readers in hopes that it may inspire them to take action to prevent that sort of future.

In the introduction of this book, the author brings up that everyone can have their own role in saving the environment, whether you’re a scientist or not. At this point, climate change is just as much a social issue as it is an ecological one. Making people aware and knowledgeable is the only way to prevent a dystopian future of the sort depicted in “The Tamarisk Hunter.” This is something that is very evident—that the job for writers and artists at this time is to make people feel something that will inspire transformation. And like Bill McKibben says, whether that feeling is fear or hope doesn’t matter, as long as it motivates a change.

Is science suddenly not as important to our current crisis as art is?

I am beginning to realize that most dystopian stories I grew up reading were not as far into the future as I originally thought. Our world could very well see something like the water crisis in The Tamarisk Hunter in the next century or two if we continue on the path of carbon increase and climate change that we are on now.

Given this, I think the story was very interesting. I am interested to read more of the short stories in this anthology. I also liked the Introductionby Bill McKibben. He mentions how important reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is and how the fossil fuel industry has “won every single battle,” by arguing that “doing anything about climate change will cause short-term economic pain.” These things both are true and make sense, but the other thing he mentioned was harder to think about. He claims “science can take us only so far…the scientists have done their job,” and now it is “time for the rest of us—for the economists, psychologists … and the artists.” This made me think a little bit, because as someone perusing a science career, engineering more specifically, it discourages me a little bit to hear that there is little else for the scientists to do. Most of my career dreams include developing some sort of new efficient energy source, or solving a big climate change crisis by inventing a new technology. There has been a lot of talk in this course about whether or not technology is a solution to this impending climate crisis. I would like to think that there are things that can be done to solve the problems using efficient processes or technology. However, I understand what McKibben is saying. The main problem with this climate crisis is that no one takes it seriously. Even if a new technology could be created, will anyone in the government be willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of the short-term economy to fund the project? Will anyone outside of the science community support the project to give it momentum?

It is very true that for things to change, the greater population of the Earth needs to start caring, and not just science community who is informed. McKibben suggests “the human heart requires not just fear, but hope.” Maybe we need to not just scare the general public with these dystopian stories that sound too close to home. We also need to give them hope that there is a chance to avoid this seemingly inevitable future.

based on a true story

When you’re a kid and you read scary stories on the eve of Halloween, they impact you more because the ghosts and monsters are believable and feel like they could be real. The imagination of a child makes them real. As we get older and get into scary movies to celebrate the frightening festivities of the holiday, we are shaken to our core when the words “Based on a true story” float onscreen, because although our childish imagination dwindles, we are still rattled by the fact that this story has at one time taken place which means it can occur again. Paolo Bucigalupi takes our fears to their limits however in this haunting rendition of a dystopian future because the story plays to the everyday horrors we know for fact are real and imminently threatening.

As a general rule, I don’t read a lot of fiction. I find it a waste of time to get lost in a written fictional setting when I could instead use my reading time to learn something that will contribute to my growing knowledge of the world. Reading The Tamarisk Hunter however, was the exception to that rule. As I read on in this chilling tale of a future reality that is frighteningly within our foreseeable future, I was entranced by the parallel themes that intertwine within the story and our current political and social atmosphere.

It is difficult to turn away from a piece of fiction writing when I know that the lessons I learn from it could be very applicable to my life and my future. The extreme water shortage portrayed in the story is already emerging, so it is not hard to imagine our current situation cranked up a couple degrees (pun intended).

Fortunately, I believe that the omens in written works and scholastic teaching are making an impact. Stories such as this one help to appeal to our emotions while scientific teaching provide the facts necessary to incite a movement. Whether it is the process of water conservation, desalination treatments, or technological advancement, we have it within us to create the change we want to see happen in this world.

Weather Humor is Really Starting to Dry Out

I love dystopian stories and constantly devour them whenever I can get my hands on them. As I grow older I am starting to realize that things that used to be very fictional are now scarily a possibility. I once read a book where humans ended up cutting down all the trees on Earth, assuming we could survive on oxygen produced by other plants and the algae in the ocean. Cities were constructed under big domes, and the air became taxed.  When I look at society around me, I realize that that may be closer than I would like.

In “The Tamarisk Hunter,” they focused on water being the primary downfall of society. I think everyone should read this short story. It puts everything into perspective in the way that many people alive today will be affected if we continue to ignore that our climate is changing because of us. I thought this story was very well done – the reader has to figure out what they are talking about through context clues, and the reader slowly realizes that the world is running out of water. I found the paragraphs describing the shower taking extremely worrisome because I can just envision that so clearly as something that is very possible. The main character had to go from showering every day to showering once a week, and then just using buckets. He also described how everyone used to joke about it, but now that it is actually killing people, society knows that this is the new normal.

It comes back around to the topic yet again of “but what can we do about it?” People need to know that yes, little things that they are doing can make a difference, but policy change is going to be the biggest impact. We have to force the world to create a new normal. If we don’t, we’ll all end up hunting tamarisks.

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