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The Effect Of Climate Change On Native People

In the endless debate over climate change, conservation and environment, we pay a lot of attention to endangered animals and to the effect on our cities and established western culture.

In the endless debate over climate change, conservation and environment, we pay a lot of attention to endangered animals and to the effect on our cities and established western culture.

Something that does fly under the radar, however, is the effect it is having on indigenous peoples around the world who still live in their traditional way. By their very nature, these people live closely with their environment and so will feel the effects of change far more acutely than the rest of us.

There are examples of the effect on indigenous people all over the world. From the Himalayas to the Amazon to Africa, Australia and from Scandinavia to South East Asia, native peoples have had to adapt to their changing environment that we created for them. Not such an easy task when your heritage and tradition and way of life stretches back hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

One of the biggest examples of this native people's displacement comes from the Arctic where the native people of northern countries like Canada are now on the brink due to the changing climate that those of us in the south have caused. The shrinking sea ice in the arctic and endangered Polar Bears are behemoths of conservation attention, but the Inuit populations of those regions rarely garner such headlines. These people rely on Polar Bears, Seals, Caribou and Reindeer for not just food, but their entire livelihood. So, having a changing environment means variation in the seasons and that means disruption to the way animals interact throughout the year.

In Norway and Sweden, the Sami people who are Reindeer herders are forced to feed their herds vast amounts of man-made Reindeer food as thanks to warmer and wetter conditions, the lichen that the Reindeer naturally feed on is nowhere near as accessible. That makes it more expensive to maintain a herd and, in the long term, makes it an unsustainable way of life. Think feeding a dog is expensive? Try feeding a thousand head strong Reindeer herd.

Adapting isn't impossible however as many small communities of Asia have started creating floating vegetable gardens to protect against increased water levels from rivers. This could be meltwater flowing off the Himalayan mountain range as more and more glaciers and snow covered areas shrink due to increased temperatures. This is displacing yet another group of people as the increase of standing or flowing water doesn't just affect the lowlands where the water ends up, but the inhabitants of the mountains too. More and more water movement through the mountains results in more landslides and avalanches as the ground is unstable and displaced, causing native peoples to be forced to move their ancestral homes.

In Africa's Kalahari Basin, increased wind speed, temperature and less rain fall have made vegetation sparser and more fragile to the conditions on the land, which in turn has accelerated the growth of sand-dunes which then spread into inhabited lands and prevent farmers from grazing their livestock. Not only does this impact on the indigenous people, but also on local government as these people have little choice but to then start to rely on government-drilled bores to access water and depend on government support. In effect, the changing of the climate in such an extreme fashion in some areas has the potential to create huge numbers of refugees. Is that enough of a problem to get noticed?

The list goes on and on and on. Global relief efforts for those in need are, of course, doing all that they can and have been doing for decades. Whenever there's a natural disaster there's huge numbers of people ready and waiting to help and so there should be. So why is the same not done in that capacity for people who are affected by climate change?

An argument can be made that some natural disasters are climate change caused anyway. Part of the reason that many people aren't interested in climate change is the notion of its 'not happening to us' and that animals and plants and rivers and mountains are all the only ones affected by the change in our world's weather. Well, that's simply not the case anymore.

By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern

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