My Word

My Word

Humanizing Climate Change & Dehumanizing peoples
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April 8, 2017

Where there are indigenous communities in the world there are still biologically rich environments. More than forty years ago out of control climate changes throughout the world became increasingly part of the experience of indigenous peoples. These two facts converge to humanize what we know about the adverse effects of climate change. Now as a result of capital centered for-profit development policies the climate system is totally out of whack. That is the present, and will be more of a problem to humanity in the future.

Industrial, corporatized, petroleum-based and computer-based societies are generating an abundance of greenhouse gases (methane, Co2). They are dumping nuclear waste and other forms of human waste into the oceans, seas and rivers. And they promote the wide use of pharmaceuticals, pesticide and herbicide, antibiotics, and other commercial byproducts (plastic bottles, cardboard containers). While all of these mindless acts proliferate global temperatures are rapidly rising to melt the north and south poles of the planet causing ocean islands to disappear, violent storms and erratic weather. These climate-disrupting byproducts are all generated primarily by the United States of America, China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, India, and European states. Indigenous nations experience the disaster at the ground level and they must respond to the crisis or become climate refugees or die.

Some say Fourth World nations must communicate to the world what is happening. I agree, but I have also argued that Fourth World Nations do not have the financial and even technical resources to fly to Bonn, Germany for Climate Change meetings, or to other international meetings in New York, Geneva, Switzerland or Bangkok to make the case. But by developing a systematic connection with international indigenous organizations, and those organizations reaching to the ground it may be possible to register a small effect. The International Workgroup on Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) in Copenhagen, Denmark observed:

Researchers and experts enriched the debate with documentation proving that in areas where indigenous people live, the environment and forests are better protected. This means that indigenous peoples’ traditional knowledge and rights to maintain their traditions are vital for mitigating climate change worldwide.

My friend, colleague and 1984 Center for World Indigenous Studies Founding Board Member Barney Nietschmann (1941-2000) and anthropologist Mac Chapin developed and released in 1992 a map of Central America sequenced over time demonstrating that as Nietschmann would say, “”the rule of indigenous environments—where there are indigenous peoples with a homeland there are still biologically rich environments.” Where there are indigenous communities in the world there are still biologically rich environments. That is a profoundly important evidence supported statement, but will the world recognize that in many instances Fourth World nations are the most important asset to humanity as a block to climate change?

What is the difference between the act of criminal violence committed by one or a few individuals resulting in the death of many people [as occurred recently in London by Khalid Masood] and the act of criminal genocide committed by one, a few individuals or many individuals causing the death of many people? Both types of action are rooted in dehumanizing the objects of the crime. Nour Kteily of Northwestern University characterizes this behavior as, “dehumanization, [is] the ability to see fellow men and women as less than human.” One researcher seeking to understand the dynamic of Melbourne University’s professor of psychology Nick Haslam says, “Dehumanization doesn’t only occur in wartime. It’s happening right here, right now. And every day, good people who don’t see themselves as being prejudiced bigots are nevertheless falling prey to it,” read more here. In other words, if one perceives one’s group as superior to another group (hierarchy in Kteily’s terms), it is acceptable to consider that other group less than human—thus subject to destruction by any means. The group perceiving its own superiority actually seeks to sow fear and hatred toward the other group on grounds that the other group is “not human.” Kteily notes that we as humans have a considerable capacity to promote and carry out social cooperation, but “we have this capacity for othering [dehumanizing].” Dehumanizing Fourth World peoples is all too often the behavior justifying genocide against native peoples around the world—“they just aren’t human like me”—genocide criminals will say.

Fourth World leaders all-too-frequently cite instances of genocide against their people as historical facts and contemporary realities. The various forms of genocide cited may include overt physical killing of a people in whole or in part, destruction of essential food and shelter sources, promoting environmental policies that radically change the climate, or removal or displacement of the population. The use of coerced educational and legal institutions to “assimilate” individuals into another group, and dismemberment of families combined with medical sterilization have also been sited. Indigenous peoples have the world over known genocide. Genocide is the destruction of a people in whole or in part. Yes, indigenous peoples have known genocide and as recently as 2014 experienced genocide at the hands of the Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabis-driven Islamic State (IS) forces. As IS forces in August 2014 drove stolen American vehicles from Syria to attack and capture the Iraqi city of Mosul in Iraq these Islamic State criminal jihadists swept through Yezidi territory and killed more than 5,000 Yezidi tribal members and captured for sexual slavery another 4,000 more. This is a clear case of a genocidal crime.

No one has been captured, indicted, and prosecuted for this crime. It is this horrific disaster that caused the United States to expand its air war in Iraq—ostensibly to protect Yezidis. And if it is left to the “rule of law” exemplified by the International Criminal Court (established in 2002), there is a real possibility that no one will be penalized. These despicable acts against the Yezidi are threatened again with the slow defeat of Islamic State forces in Mosul and their replacement by al Qaeda forces now seeking to organized Sunni tribal forces in the same region of northern Iraq to perpetuate the horrific killing.

Fourth World nations have also been responsible for commissions of the crime of genocide, as have states’ governments, political parties, and even corporations. In Rwanda the senior leader of the ruling Hutu Party, Leon Mugesera, referred in 1992 and before to the Tutsi as cockroaches; and incessantly promoted anti-Tutsi propaganda filling the air with hate and fear among the Hutus. His call for mass murder broadly contributed to the killing of more than 800,000 Tutsi. Twenty years after the mass killing Mugesera was sentenced to life in prison a Rwandan judge for “public incitement to commit genocide, persecution as crime against humanity, and inciting ethnic-affiliated hatred.”

How could thousands of Hutu decide to murder hundreds of thousands of Tutsi on the basis of this kind of incitement—cockroaches indeed? How could it take more than twenty years to prosecute one person for the crime? How could there be just one person?

Indigenous peoples around the world have been the targets of those who would be victims of genocide. World War II British political champion Winston Churchill referring to tribal peoples in Iraq in 1920 when Britain occupied that region said, “I do not understand the squeamishness about the use of gas. I am strongly in favor of using poison gas against uncivilized tribes. It would spread a lively terror.” (—Winston Churchill, 1920, with regard to the uprising in Iraq.) Churchill was advocating state terrorism against peoples who obstructed British occupation of their territories.

Fourth World peoples are generally the humanizing influence when it comes to climate change, dehumanizing is used against these peoples to justify genocide against them.

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