Climate change is an issue that’s finally gaining recognition worldwide. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are at their peak, the earth is getting warmer and sea levels are rising. We are becoming more conscious of the earth, and how our way of life plays into the affects climate change. We seem to know about global warming; we know that polar bears are dying out due to melting ice caps, we’ve been told to ride our bikes instead of drive our cars. We know it’s better to take the train into work and to eat less meat. While these recommendations should be considered, they all relate to a colonial way of living.
First Nations people have been pioneering sustainable living and protection of the earth for centuries. And yet, ironically they have been the most affected by climate change. In Brazil and Malaysia, the Indigenous groups face threat from logging and commercial farming, and the ongoing genocide of the First Nations people in Brazil has caused conflict between those local tribes and loggers. In April 2018, tribe leader Jorginho Guajajara was killed and dumped in a nearby stream. And Brazil’s president Bolsonaro has made consistent remarks of contempt toward the country’s Indigenous peoples. In Malaysia, the government approved several large corporations for logging and building dams on land stolen from the Penan people, whose lives depend on hunting and maintaining their own agriculture.
In the United States, Native Americans continue to be marginalised by the government. All Native American land is still owned by the federal government, where coal mines are allowed to thrive. As a result, communities such as the Navajo and many more in the South have been facing perpetual drought. Water is life for these people; the lack of access to running water has taken away their ability to feed livestock, maintain crops and have access to drinking water.
It is more important to recognise that First Nations people do not really have the privilege of being able to go out and protest in that way.
While a lot of rallying for these issues is happening around the world, and it is important to commend these young people for fearlessly campaigning for climate change action, it is more important to recognise that First Nations people do not really have the privilege of being able to go out and protest in that way. For them it is about survival, saving their ancestral rights, preserving their history, and their very way of life. Recently, Greta Thunberg made waves in the media after she initiated a school strike against climate change outside the Swedish Parliament. In August 2018, she stood outside the Parliament House to protest against her government failing to sign to the Paris Agreement, which is a United Nations agreement for green-house gas mitigation and other environmental affairs. She set off an international campaign, with hashtags #strike4climate and #FridaysForFuture. Since then, the use of hashtag #climatechange has also gained popularity and one million students, across 100 countries in Asia, South and North America, Africa, Europe, Australia and New Zealand, have ‘school striked’ to bring awareness to the issue of climate change.
A similarly aligned grassroots movement, SEED, is Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate organisation. Amelia Telford, an Aboriginal and South Sea Islander woman from Bundjalung country, heads the organisation as its National Director, and seeks to rectify the damage caused by fossil fuel mining, to the land that rightfully belongs to Aboriginal people—the Traditional Custodians. In early 2018, SEED gathered at Parliament House in Canberra to raise awareness for their campaign #waterislife and the ongoing fracking on Aboriginal land. Coal mining and fracking by corporations has caused chemical leaks, water shortages and contamination, and contributes to drought throughout the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia. Only last, the Northern Territory Government lifted the suspension on hydraulic fracturing. The news caused outrage across the Indigenous communities who had been resisting for months, including SEED. Despite that the NT State Government officially states that the ‘traditional Aboriginal owners must be consulted of development’ on their land, companies such as Origin and Buru continue to exploit the resources that rightfully belong to these communities.
Torres Strait Islanders are also largely at risk from the effects that flooding, typhoons and cyclones caused by climate pollution and rising sea levels have on their immediate surroundings. According to a report by the CSIRO, Torres Strait Islander communities ‘may be facing imminent threats to their existence’. Climate change events caused by multinational corporations are not limited to Australia either. In Fiji, Litia Baleilevuka first handedly experienced the disastrous effects of climate change. In 2016, Cyclone Winston ravaged her homeland and destroyed her mother’s village on Koro Island, leaving many dead and injured. Similarly, Marina Ubaldo lost her home and loved ones to Typhoon Haiyan on November 8, 2013. Last year, she testified against 47 multinational companies (such as BHP Billiton and Shell) in New York as part of a human rights inquest into corporate involvement in climate change.
The world is on the brink of the worst ever human made devastation to the planet. With the federal election just around the corner, it is the responsibility of those who are able and privileged to ensure the government, and corporations, remain accountable for climate action.
The world is on the brink of the worst ever human made devastation to the planet. With the federal election just around the corner, it is the responsibility of those who are able and privileged to ensure the government, and corporations, remain accountable for climate action. First Nations people, Torres Strait Islanders and communities of colour are the most at risk. We need to recognise our duty to protect the earth for the sake of humanity, and for the marginalised groups whose voices continue to be silenced and erased.