The Threat of Climate Change on Indigenous Peoples

Climate change has become a major topic of interest lately. While the increase in awareness is exciting and overdue, it has left some things to be overlooked. Its widespread discussion has allowed it to become generalized. There are many facets to the issue that is climate change and Robert Melchior Figueroa discusses one of these in Climate Change and Society. In this piece, he discusses the effects of climate change on Indigenous peoples. 

Figueroa touches on the loss of indigenous languages, knowledge, and place. Although these groups of people have been here longer and contribute the least to climate change, they are being affected to a far greater degree. A lot of this is due to displacement. As the consequences become more severe, some indigenous communities have been forced out of their homelands. When they lose these places, which often have strong ties to their culture, they not only lose their home but also a part of their identity. It’s even said that some professionals recognize this as a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. The rate at which this injustice occurs is increasing and has even led to what is being called the Climate refugee. Statistics estimate that by 2060 there could be nearly 200 million people who classify as a climate refugee. 

Restorative justice is proposed as a solution to this problem. To provide a brief definition, restorative justice is the idea that the victims and offenders should be brought together to meet and discuss a resolution. Doing so will allow for the full involvement of the indigenous people in making decisions that affect them directly. Historically, those who determined what would happene with native land disregarded the thoughts of those who originally inhabited the area. Figueroa notes that these attributes are even mirrored within state systems such as the courts.   


Overall, the book Climate Change and Society by authors John S. Dryzek, Richard B. Norgaard, and David Schlosberg was an interesting read, to say the least. A part that caught my attention was Chapter 16 3.3 Endangered Languages and 4.1 Climate Refugees. These particular sections highlighted the idea of cultural loss and displacement and although this probably wouldn’t happen for a long time, the sinking of Japan came to mind.

The reading explicitly mentions the Carteret Islanders being displaced and although they were at “smaller numbers” (2,500 people displaced due to climate change), this made me realize that cultures are being replaced in the entirety. With this is the loss of language, environment, and almost a change in identity. This made me think about a larger island, that being Japan, and specifically, what the global impacts of a huge country with a long, long, history going under would have. This is especially prevalent to me because I am Korean, and historically, Korea has some huge ties with Japan and today, there are always talks between them (not all of them being “good” talks) and I can’t help but wonder Korea without Japan.

Although politically Korean and Japan have not always been the best of friends, we have shares in cultures including entertainment seen in anime (a korean super star is known for saying the line “Nico Nico Nee” from an anime “Love Live”) and KPop (where some extremely popular Kpop groups have very loved Japanese idols and sometimes, KPop groups would even release two versions of the same song; one in Korean, the other Japanese) and other cultural ties including food, way of life (although nowadays, Korea is being more “progressive”), and technology (like, just look at pictures of Tokyo and Seoul – the similarities are very apparent). It is pretty easy to see the connections between the two countries and although Japan of course, has global connections, it is very hard to see Korea specifically, without Japan.

As mentioned before, I do know that Japan (probably) wouldn’t sink for many years (if they ever will), but if for example. they sank tomorrow, I personally, with my love for Japan (enough so I self teach myself the language), probably would feel myself kind of lost, which is strange considering that I am full Korean, born and raised in the US. I can only imagine what it’s like for communities that have already been lost and I guess I can just “appreciate”, how this article articulates the idea that with climate change is a loss of something that affects not just the communities affected, but those around them too. In other words, a global loss.