Climate Change: Losing the Ineffable


Faces of Climate Change*

Climate change is here and now and it is destroying the peoples, land, and way of life that has sustained humanity for thousands of years. It is affecting those who are least responsible for global warming; those in developing countries, who live in rural areas & whose lives and cultures embody very old traditions and wisdom. When the unsustainable way of life that keeps us separate from each other completely fails, we will need the wisdom and methods of those we are destroying today more than ever. We must act now before we lose the ineffable wisdom and ways of living that can save us all.

Here you will hear the voices and see the faces of climate refugees directly, some who are literally in danger of extinction; Kenyan Nomads, the oldest surviving culture of the Andes — the Bolivian Uru Chipaya, Bangladeshi, Nepalese, Tuvalu etc. All of these people and cultures have passed down methods for living in balance with the Earth. They fished, farmed, and used resources for millennia without destroying themselves. Now, they, their knowledge and land are being destroyed by global warming. Below are only a few examples of the cultures and people that are in danger. (Many of the examples have powerful video links below.)

The sacred river in the Bolivian Andes is disappearing and with it so are the Uru Chipaya, one of the oldest surviving Andean peoples. Juan Condori of the Uru Chipaya says, “We are at risk for extinction.” Another tribe member says, “What are we going to do without water? We are a water people.” The tribe has survived in a place where no others have been able to for hundreds of years. But now, something outside their control, global warming, is denying them the ability to continue. (1)

“The world is ill. The lungs of the sky are polluted,” says Shaman Davi Yanomami of the Yanomami Indians in Brazil. The Yanomami live in the rain forest. If the temperature goes up even slightly, as is predicted, their homeland will be devastated. “Money gets spent. The land doesn’t…We are fighting for our lives. The rains are arriving late and the Sun is behaving in a strange way.” (2)

In Bangladesh, as in other places, climate refugees(3) are forced to leave their ancestral lands to move to cities. There they are confronted with “progress” and “civilization” that while at first they find exciting and interesting, quickly becomes a nightmare. In their villages they were able to harvest food. In the city, they must buy everything. The children, who played and went to school in their village, now must work all the time and can’t afford to attend school. They miss their homes and they find it hard to get used to the noise of the city. The very people who in their day-to-day life were least impacting the climate are now forced to live in the cities that create global warming, in the most difficult circumstances. Where they once lived a stable, comfortable existence, they now are reduced to living in makeshift houses, in filthy unsafe conditions, unable to use the skills that served them well in their villages. One third of Bangladesh could be underwater by 2050.(4)

In Kenya, nomads are giving up their way of life because there simply is not enough water to continue. (5) Tuvalu, one of the smallest nations on Earth made up of islands in the Pacific Ocean is literally disappearing. (6)

Glaciers are melting at alarming rates all over the world, including Nepal. Dewa Steven Sherpa is a voice among thousands calling for climate justice — calling for countries whose consumption is principally responsible for global warming to provide assistance to those who are being impacted disproportionately.

“The average temperature increase in Nepal is twice that of the global average. Nepal is not to blame. Nepal’s contribution to carbon emissions is 0.02%, which is practically nothing. We’re not to blame. Yet we’re the victims. So the West should come in and help us deal with our problem. Not because its charity or aid, but because it is justice. You have to help us because it’s a problem you have brought to us. When you have 1/4 of humanity who are going to face a serious shortage in water, then that is not just about climate change and environment, that’s a humanitarian crisis and also security. When 1.3 billion people see that because of the actions of West historically they are being disenfranchised, then there’s going to be a lot of hostilities towards them in the future. So it’s important to act now.” (7)

The Inuit, indigenous people who live in the Arctic, are feeling the impact on their way of life as well. They have written a book called Unikkaaqatigiit: Putting the Human Face on Climate Change documenting this impact. They conducted workshops that supported the Inuit in making observations on the effects of climate change on their people, the land, food and way of life. They “are taking action to ensure the world is aware of how these climactic changes are not only threatening the survival of traditional Inuit culture but the earth’s survival…There are so many changes the older generations are not able to teach our children about these things anymore.” (8)

Lastly, in Australia, a “cultural genocide” of Aborigines is also possible. “Rising sea levels and soaring temperatures would make their homelands uninhabitable, severing spiritual links and laying waste to the environment, according to the commission’s annual Native Title Report…Problems that indigenous Australians will encounter include people being forced to leave their lands, particularly in coastal areas. Dispossession and a loss of access to traditional lands, waters, and natural resources may be described as cultural genocide; a loss of ancestral, spiritual, totemic and language connections to lands and associated areas.” (9)

Each of these cultures and peoples are precious. And yet, each is endangered. In the problem, lies the solution. It is by learning and listening to the voices of those who are at most at risk that we can find, together, a way back — back to the ways of connection to each other and the land. And it is by connecting to something larger than ourselves that we can truly remove ourselves from this path of destruction.

What’s the Core Problem?

Al Gore is training “people of faith” in the impact of global warming so that they can then preach the good word to their congregations. Gore frames the battle against climate change as “ultimately a moral and spiritual issue…His historical reference point was the civil rights movement. He noted that the tipping point for success came when Martin Luther King shifted the movement from a political struggle to a moral one.” (10) Similar efforts are underway in the Christian community. Day Six “is a campaign of Faithful America, an online community of more than 100,000 citizens motivated by faith to take action on the pressing moral issues of our time…”DaySix” is a reference to the creation story in Genesis, when God made human beings stewards of creation. On the sixth day, we were made in God’s image and given responsibility to care for the earth and each other. Today, we must fulfill that charge.” (11)

If we understand what the problem truly is, only then can we find solutions. Copenhagen failed, most especially it failed the people in this article. What now? How is climate change a spiritual problem and what can we do? Derrick Jensen offers two crucial differences between indigenous cultures that survived for thousands of years and Western culture: “If we want to stop this culture from killing the planet, we might instead try asking how so many indigenous cultures lived in place for so long without destroying their landbases…the indigenous had and have serious long-term relationships with the plants and animals with whom they share their landscape…’using methods that would be sustainable over centuries and even millennia. They did not alter their environment beyond what could sustain them indefinitely. They did not farm, but they managed the environment. But it was different from the way that people try to manage it now, because they stayed in relationship with it.’ The other difference I want to mention…is that even the most open Westerners view listening to the natural world as a metaphor, as opposed to something real. I asked American Indian writer Vine Deloria about this, and he said, “I think the primary thing is that Indians experience and relate to a living universe, whereas Western people, especially science, reduce things to objects, whether they’re living or not. The implications of this are immense. If you see the world around you as made up of objects for you to manipulate and exploit, not only is it inevitable that you will destroy the world by attempting to control it, but perceiving the world as lifeless robs you of the richness, beauty, and wisdom of participating in the larger pattern of life.” (12)

We can think of “…climate change as a crisis of meaning, purpose, and vocation of life. It is a deeper spiritual problem integrally connected with our relationship with the Divine, the human community, and the wider community of creation. Stated differently, climate change is the consequence of a faith which absolutize the neo-liberal market mechanisms as realized eschatology, propagates an anthropology that understands fulfillment of self-interest as human flourishing, approaches nature as a bounty given to the human kind to grab and to control, and believes in a God who sanctions the sacrifice of human and other lives for the prosperity and well being of a few chosen ones. This is the spiritual crisis that we face in our context, and we turn to the subaltern communities for new resources that can enable us in our search for spiritualities that inspire and empower us to decolonize our minds, our faiths, our communities, and our planet….Real solutions to the climate crisis are being built by those who have always protected the Earth and by those who fight every day to defend their environment and living conditions. We need to globalize these solutions. For us, the struggles for climate justice and social justice are one and the same. It is the struggle for territories, land, forests and water, for agrarian and urban reform, food and energy sovereignty, for women’s and worker’s rights. It is the fight for equality and justice for indigenous peoples, for peoples of the global South, for the redistribution of wealth and for the recognition of the historical ecological debt owed by the North. Against the disembodied, market-driven interests of the global elite and the dominant development model based on never-ending growth and consumption, the climate justice movement will reclaim the commons, and put social and economic realities at the heart of our struggle against climate change.” (13)

(1) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2009/apr/20/bolivia-climate-change
(2) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2009/jun/13/davi-yanomami-climate-change-dangerous
(3)”UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security predicts that by 2010, there will be 50 million ‘environmentally displaced people’, most of whom will be women and children.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_refugee
(4) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2009/nov/30/bangladesh-climate-migration
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2009/nov/30/bangladesh-climate-migrants-dhaka
(5) http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/video/2009/sep/13/kenya-nomads-drought
(6) http://motherjones.com/environment/2009/11/tuvalu-climate-refugees
(7) http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/video/2009/dec/10/copenhagen-sherpa-himalayas
(8) http://www.itk.ca/sites/default/files/unikkaaqatigiit01.pdf
(9) http://www.treehugger.com/files/2009/05/climate-change-cultural-genocide.php
(10) http://ethicsdaily.com/news.php?viewStory=13306
(11) http://daysix.org
http://www.faithfulamerica.org/
(12) http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/articles/article/5106/
(13) http://www.elca.org/What-We-Believe/Social-Issues/Journal-of-Lutheran-Ethics/Issues/April-2009/Musings-on-Climate-Justice.aspx

More Information:

*Main Image — Copenhagen: Voices from the edge of climate change
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/interactive/2009/dec/12/copenhagen-climate-change

Climate Justice Now
http://www.climate-justice-now.org/

Climate Justice Hunger Strike
http://www.democracynow.org/2009/12/9/climate_justice_activists_enter_day_34

The Choice at Copenhagen: Heroism or Collective Suicide
http://www.alternet.org/environment/144384/the_choice_at_copenhagen%3A_heroism_or_collective_suicide

Climate change ‘could spark conflict’
http://www.metro.co.uk/news/79167-climate-change-could-spark-conflict

Bluepeace: the face of climate change in the Maldives
http://www.bluepeacemaldives.org/vulnerable/

Climate Justice Fast
http://www.climatejusticefast.com/

Global Warming Forces an Alaska Town to Relocate
http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2009/04/27/global-warming-forces-an-alaska-town-of-340-souls-to-relocate/

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