Climate Change an Extra Burden for Native Americans, Study Says

08-03-2011 // John Broder

The following is an excerpt from the New York Times.

Because tribal lands are particularly prone to drought, flooding, wildfires and other weather extremes, American Indian tribes suffer disproportionately from the impacts of climate change, a new study from the National Wildlife Federation and other groups reported Wednesday.

Forest Fire

American Indians and Alaska natives are more dependent than most other Americans on natural resources and on the bounty of oceans and rivers and thus are particularly at risk from the effects of a warming planet, according to the report, “Facing the Storm: Indian Tribes, Climate-Induced Weather Extremes and the Future for Indian Country."

Because many Native Americans live on reservations, they do not have the freedom to move in response to extreme climatic events and are forced to adapt, often with very limited resources.

“The high dependence of tribes upon their lands and natural resources to sustain their economic, cultural and spiritual practices, the relatively poor state of their infrastructure and the great need for financial and technical resources to recover from such events all contribute to the disproportionate impact on tribes,” the report states.

This year has already brought some of the most damaging weather events in United States history, and such extremes are expected to accelerate as carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases accumulate in the atmosphere.

“Extreme weather events can be very destructive for tribes, many of whom are already suffering from lack of resources to begin with,” said Amanda Staudt, a scientist at the National Wildlife Federation and a contributor to the report.

Among the study’s recommendations are an increase in federal funds for climate adaptation programs on tribal lands; greater exploitation of renewable resources, including solar power, on Indian reservations; and stronger collaboration among tribes on natural resources and climate change programs. The group faulted the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs for not providing the money needed to help Indians deal with climate impacts they had virtually no part in creating.

Jose Aguto, policy adviser on climate change for the National Congress of American Indians, said that Indians have proved to be highly adaptable over centuries and can draw on that experience in facing the challenges of climate change in coming decades.

“Tribal peoples have lived on the land for centuries and millennia,” he said. “These practices have been proven by time.”

Related Resources
  • Global Warming and Extreme Weather
    Learn how global warming is making hot days hotter, rainfall and flooding heavier, hurricanes stronger and droughts more severe.
  • National Wildlife Federation Tribal Lands Program
    NWF's Tribal Lands Conservation Program works to ensure the well-being of wildlife and habitat on and near tribal lands by working in partnership with tribal and non-tribal governments and tribal organizations, environmental staff, and members, while respecting tribal culture and sovereignty.