When Quinault Indian Nation President Fawn Sharp remarked, “Our ancestors had to be good stewards of the land. Yet we seem to be paying the price for others who don’t share the same values,” she was referring to the difference between Fourth World conservation and First World consumerism. As President Sharp noted in an article about the need to relocate the Quinault village of Taholah to higher ground, “Our ocean is becoming acidic, the ocean is encroaching into our ancient homelands, and the glaciers that feed the upper Quinault River and our prized sockeye salmon are disappearing. So while we have been good stewards, we are paying a heavy price for other peoples mistakes.”
While it is traumatic for indigenous communities in the Untied States to have to relocate due to climate change, for indigenous peoples in Mexico and Central America, First World consumerism has forced massive relocation and displacement. Through NAFTA and other Free Trade agreements designed to expand US consumerism, indigenous communities have lost the ability to survive, finding it necessary to rent themselves out as virtual slaves on US and Mexican plantations. As climate change — resulting from the post-war fossil-fueled extravaganza in the US — accelerates, entire regions in the tropics are forecast for abandonment due to extreme heat. When that happens, climate refugees will be forced to relocate, many as undocumented immigrants.
As high-tech gadgetry and toys like electric cars demand a continuous supply of rare earth minerals from Central Africa, displacement of indigenous peoples there will impact Europe–the other bastion of First World consumerism. As austerity programs imposed by consumer czars at the IMF, on Wall Street, and in the Central Bank create widespread poverty and despair, racism and anti-immigrant bigotry will erupt on both continents. Indeed, that is already happening.
In addition to cataloging the monetary costs of climate change relocation, indigenous and civil society leaders need to consider the connection between consumerism, climate change displacement, and the rise of fascism. While journalists are busy covering the climate change deprivations, few seem to be looking at the challenges it poses to democratic political systems.
As the political dynamics of this catastrophe unfold, analysts who offer a top-view of the disintegrating social setting — for which only the military, law enforcement, and the incarceration industry are preparing — help these leaders comprehend the convergence of indigenous persecution, mainstream poverty and the coming plague resulting from the collapse of global public health. While indigenous and civil society might view the approaching waves of climate change refugees as tragic, the military-industrial complex views it as a totalitarian opportunity.