Renewable Roundup: Indigenous Tribes of America – Part 1, Climate Change Impact

  • Published on June 27th, 2020

To those who pay attention, the disparate impact of Global Warming on Native Americans is not news. But not many have heard how the genocide of Native Americans affected the global climate. Here are the impacts. Native responses to this ongoing disaster will be our subject in tomorrow’s post. Many tribes are taking leading roles in identifying and mitigating environmental impacts.

Dead Kuskokwim salmon on the shores of the Ugashik River in Alaska. More than 100,000 fish in Bristol Bay were killed by heat stress in 2019. (Photo CC by Birch Block)
Dead Kuskokwim salmon on the shores of the Ugashik River in Alaska. More than 100,000 fish in Bristol Bay were killed by heat stress in 2019. (Photo CC by Birch Block)

By Mokurai

Feb 2, 2019 – European colonizers killed so many Native Americans that it changed the global climate, researchers say.

European settlers killed 56 million indigenous people over about 100 years in South, Central and North America, causing large swaths of farmland to be abandoned and reforested, researchers at University College London, or UCL, estimate. The increase in trees and vegetation across an area the size of France resulted in a massive decrease in carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, according to the study.

Earth system impacts of the European arrival and Great Dying in the Americas after 1492

We investigate whether the decline in global atmospheric CO2 concentration by 7–10 ppm in the late 1500s and early 1600s which globally lowered surface air temperatures by 0.15C, were generated by natural forcing or were a result of the large-scale depopulation of the Americas after European arrival, subsequent land use change and secondary succession. We quantitatively review the evidence for (i) the pre-Columbian population size, (ii) their per capita land use, (iii) the post-1492 population loss, (iv) the resulting carbon uptake of the abandoned anthropogenic landscapes, and then compare these to potential natural drivers of global carbon declines of 7–10 ppm.

Not just Native Americans, as it turns out. And there was increased volcanic activity around that time, to make things worse.

Little Ice Age

The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population.[96] In total, the plague may have reduced the world population from an estimated 475 million to 350–375 million in the 14th century.[97] It took 200 years for the world population to recover to its previous level.[98] William Ruddiman proposed that these large population reductions in  Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East caused a decrease in agricultural activity. Ruddiman suggests reforestation took place, allowing more carbon dioxide uptake from the atmosphere, which may have been a factor in the cooling noted during the Little Ice Age. Ruddiman further hypothesized that a reduced population in the Americas after European contact in the 16th century could have had a similar effect.[99][100]

Other researchers supported depopulation in the Americas as a factor, asserting that humans had cleared considerable amounts of forest to support agriculture in the Americas before the arrival of Europeans brought on a population collapse.[101][102] Richard Nevle, Robert Dull and colleagues further suggested that not only anthropogenic forest clearance played a role in reducing the amount of carbon sequestered in Neotropical forests, but that human-set fires played a central role in reducing biomass in Amazonian and Central American forests before the arrival of Europeans and the concomitant spread of diseases during the Columbian exchange.[103][104][105]

Dull and Nevle calculated that reforestation in the tropical biomes of the Americas alone from 1500 to 1650 accounted for net carbon sequestration of 2-5 Pg.[104] Brierley conjectured that European arrival in the Americas caused mass deaths from epidemic disease, which caused much abandonment of farmland, which caused much return of forest, which sequestered greater levels of carbon dioxide.[12]

A study of sediment cores and soil samples further suggests that carbon dioxide uptake via reforestation in the Americas could have contributed to the Little Ice Age.[106] The depopulation is linked to a drop in carbon dioxide levels observed at Law DomeAntarctica.[101] A 2011 study by the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology asserts that the Mongol invasions and conquests, which lasted almost two centuries, contributed to global cooling by depopulating vast regions and allowing for the return of carbon absorbing forest over cultivated land.[107]

Native Americans and a Changing Climate » Yale Climate Connections

Jun 21, 2012 — Native Americans are expected to be among the population groups most vulnerable to adverse effects of climate change.

“The tribes are on the front lines of climate change,” Garrit Voggesser, national director, tribal partnerships for the National Wildlife Federation, said in a recent phone interview. The organization’s August 2011 report, “Facing the Storm,” found that extreme heat waves and drought projected in a warmer climate can harm plants, increase wildlife mortality and heighten risks of wildfires and habitat loss.

What a demeaning headline. This is not an amusement.

Native Americans, the people who have been on this land the longest, tend to consider climate change a matter of fact. For years indigenous individuals and groups, like the Indigenous Environmental Network, have voiced concern over climate change, pointing as much to changes they’ve seen in ancestral lands as to scientific studies. Now, month after month of unseasonably hot and destructive weather and reports of strange animal behavior have confirmed many suspicions that dramatic shifts are underway.

“People who have deep inter-generational knowledge about a landscape or a seascape aren’t wasting any time talking about whether or not this is happening,” said Daniel Wildcat, a professor at Haskell Indian Nations University in Lawrence, Kansas, and an expert on indigenous environmental thinking, who has seen “almost an invasion” of armadillos move north into his state.

“I think there’s a difficulty in getting through to people who live in a society that’s so geographically mobile,” Wildcat said. “Indigenous people are stepping out on this because their tribal identities, who they are as people, don’t come from nation-state status or written constitutions. Their identities are emergent out of landscapes and seascapes.”

In northeastern Minnesota, along Lake Superior, the fastest-warming fresh body of water in the world, a group of Chippewa Indians are dealing with the issue of changing climate and identity head on.

“Who we are is changing because the land is changing,” said Seth Moore, a wildlife biologist for the Trust Lands Department of the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Among indigenous peoples in North America, the Native Americans who continue to practice traditional and subsistence lifestyles to perhaps the highest degree are those in Alaska, where 80% of the diet comes from the immediate surroundings, says Jose Aguto, policy advisor on climate change, environment, and natural resources for the National Congress of American Indians. Between 2002 and 2007, coastal erosion more than doubled along a 40-mile stretch of Alaska’s Beaufort Sea, according to a U.S. Geological Survey study in the 14 February 2009 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The authors posited that numerous climate-related factors may be working together to change erosion patterns. Some coastal villages have been swamped, and substantial shifts are occurring in plant and animal populations as they try to adapt to the thawing tundra.

Peoples in Alaska have been some of the most vocal about climate change, says Del Laverdure, a member of the Crow tribe in Montana and deputy assistant secretary with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Other tribes that have been active on the climate change issue include some in the Pacific Northwest, such as the Quinault Indian Nation in Washington, in response to changes in fish and forests that have already appeared, he adds.

Yes, the Voice of America that Trump just disbanded.

Pueblo tribal members watch the Encebado Fire on Taos Pueblo land in New Mexico, July, 2003. The fire, sparked by lightening, burned 5,000 acres near the Pueblo, leading to subsequent flooding and erosion when rain finally fell.
Pueblo tribal members watch the Encebado Fire on Taos Pueblo land in New Mexico, July, 2003.  The fire, sparked by lightening, burned 5,000 acres near the Pueblo, leading to subsequent flooding and erosion when rain finally fell.

Apr 19, 2017 —  Climate change is real; it’s here, and we are on the frontlines of the battle to save America’s land, water and air—that’s the message NativeAmerican nations will bring to Washington April 29, the eve of President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, when they will march against federal policies they say are putting them in danger.

The march is being organized by a coalition of activists formed after the 2014 People’s Climate March, when a record 400,000 people descended on New York City ahead of a U.N. summit on climate change.  Among those organizers is Tom Goldtooth (Navajo/Dakota), executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network, which works to organize North American tribal people around environmental and economic justice issues.

Minnesota tribes are not alone, said Garrit Voggesser, director of the National Wildlife Federation’s Tribal Partnership program. He is among the authors of a 2011 report, “Facing the Storm: Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes, and the Future for Indian Country,” which details the devastating impact of global warming on tribal peoples.

Goldtooth has seen the effects first-hand in Minnesota, where the New Mexico native now lives.

“We just ended what’s called ‘Sugar Bush’—maple syruping. The seasons change, the weather is unseasonably warm. And all this has impact on weather and when the sap is flowing,” he said. “And it’s the same way with the ‘wild’ rice, which our Dakota people call ‘psin’. In certain areas here in the the Great Lakes area, the weather has been very unpredictable, and when water levels are down, it’s very hard to have a harvest of this sacred food.”

Mild winters have led to an increase in the populations of deer ticks and other disease carrying parasites. These have decimated Minnesota’s population of moose, which have provided subsistence to tribes for generations.

Limited free access to images of the article, not to text, via Jstor, but with further references

by D Cordalis – ‎2008 – ‎Cited by 35 – ‎Related articles

The Effects of Climate Change on American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes

Free access via American Bar Association, article only

Climate change will affect American Indian tribes differently than the larger American society. Tribal cultures are integrated into the ecosystems of North America and many tribal economies are heavily dependent on the use of fish, wildlife, and native plants. Even where tribal economies are integrated into the national economy, tribal cultural identities continue to be deeply rooted in the natural world. As global warming disrupts biological communities, the survival of some tribes as distinct cultures may be at risk. The loss of traditional cultural practices because important plants and animals are no longer available may prove to be too much for some tribal cultures to withstand on top of the external pressures they have faced during recent generations.

(Crossposted with DailyKos.)

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Generalist BA, Math and Philosophy Peace Corps, South Korea Buddhist monastic training High-tech market analyst Tech Writer Serial NGO Founder Education for a billion children End poverty at a profit

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