If “large fossil fuel emissions are allowed to continue[…] the burden placed on young people and future generations may become too heavy to bear,” the researchers write. (Photo: Takver/flickr/cc)
The “shit is hitting is the fan,” said noted climate scientist James Hansen, countering “this narrative out there…that we have turned the corner on dealing with the climate problem.”
Hansen is lead author of a new study that warns that there “is no time to delay” on climate change efforts and argues that they must go beyond just slashing emissions of CO2—”the dominant control knob on global temperature”—to extracting CO2 from the air, or “negative emissions.”
The team of international researchers writes that “the world has overshot appropriate targets”—a conclusion that “is sufficiently grim to compel us to point out that pathways to rapid emission reductions are feasible.” Continue reading →
The Trump administration has proposed drastic cuts to humanitarian aid programs in the midst of the worst humanitarian crisis since 1945. (Photo: Gerry & Bonni/Flickr/cc)
The vast majority of Americans are “oblivious” to the fact that more than 20 million people are on the brink of starvation in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, and Nigeria, according to a recent survey conducted by the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
A “staggering” 85 percent of Americans simply don’t know that these nations are facing such dire shortages of food and other necessary resources, IRC discovered. Continue reading →
The Colorado River, one of the longest rivers in the United States, is gradually shrinking. This is partly a result of overuse by municipalities and seasonal drought. The other reason is global warming.
The decline in the river reservoir will have serious implications for large U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles, that depend on the Colorado River as their water source. In addition, this will also have an impact on the Native American tribes who view the Colorado River as sacred to their religions.
As Ka-Voka Jackson, a member of the Hualapai tribe and a graduate student working to address climate change on the Colorado River and restoring native plant species along its banks, stated,
“The Colorado River is so sacred not just to my tribe, but to so many others.”
As a scholar of Native American religions and the environment, I understand how indigenous people’s religions and sacred places are closely tied to their landscape. For the past 100 years, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt to changes in their environments and modify their religious rituals in the United States. The U.S. government made certain Native American religious practices illegal in the 19th and early 20th century. Although these policies have since been rescinded, they led to changes in many indigenous practices.
Global warming, however, is different. The question is whether indigenous people will be able to adapt their beliefs all over again due to the impact of global warming on the natural world.
Adapting to change
The Blackfeet tribe in Montana brought changes in their relationship with the natural world as a result of the policies of the U.S. government from the 1880s to the 1930s.
For example, the Blackfeet purposefully moved religious ceremonies from one time on their liturgical calendar to completely different times to avoid the U.S. government penalizing native people for dancing or participating in religious ceremonies.
The Blackfeet moved their annual O’kan, or sundance festival, from late summer (usually held at the end of August) to the Fourth of July celebration. They avoided U.S. government punishment by masking their ceremonies within state-sanctioned public events.
Policies related to the mining of natural resources and damming of rivers on indigenous lands have also led to changes in Native Americans’ religious practices.
Historian David R. M. Beckinterviewed elders and researched how the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin adapted to the loss of their sacred fish, the sturgeon, after a paper mill built a dam across the Wolf River.
The sturgeon disappeared after the dam was built in 1892, because they could no longer swim upstream to spawn. For over 100 years, the Menominee tribal members continued to pray and conduct their annual “returning of the sturgeon” ceremony in the spring – even though there were no more sturgeon in the river. The Menominee ultimately won the right to return the sturgeon to the Wolf River in 1992 and the tribe revitalized the full ceremony and celebration of their sacred fish.
In all these situations, Native American tribes learned to adapt to the challenges placed before them, modify their religious practice and embrace a different relationship with the natural world.
Global warming and religion
When it comes to global climate change, it affects everyone, not just specific groups in specific places. But for many indigenous peoples, natural resources are closely linked to religious beliefs and practices.
Historically, indigenous peoples used the natural seasonal cycles of weather, plants and animals as part of their liturgical or religious calendar. The Blackfeet held their annual “beaver bundle ceremony” in the early spring as ice melted off rivers and beavers returned to the open waters. In Blackfeet mythology, a beaver served as a deity who taught humans how to cultivate tobacco, which the tribe used for important religious ceremonies and as a peace offering to their enemies.
There are signs, though, that beavers are now moving north due to global warming. Biologists are currently studying both beavers and the birch and alder shrubs
that beavers eat, as both move north into new regions. Scientists worry that as a keystone species, the movement of beavers will change the northern ecosystems as they cut off waterways and build beaver dams. And shrubs will change the local waterways that they grow by. This will affect local animal species.
What will happen when there are no more beaver in Blackfeet territory? Will their religious traditions adapt similar to the Menominee when they faced the loss of their sacred sturgeon?
Religion and resiliency
From the arctic tundra to the American desert southwest, and places worldwide, indigenous peoples will be facing the impact of global climate change.
Regarding the shrinking of the Colorado River, researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeckhave concluded that, “Failing to act on climate change means accepting the very high risk that the Colorado River basin will continue to dry up into the future.”
If this river faces a drier future, it will likely affect the Mojave, a people indigenous to the Colorado River basin, who believe the river was created by their ancient deity Mastamho as part of their sacred landscape.
As the G-20 convenes in Germany this week to discuss global issues including climate change, indigenous scholars, such as myself, are wondering what the future holds for indigenous peoples, their environments and their religions.
Indigenous communities can be resilient and adapt their internal religious beliefs to outside challenges, as Native American tribes from the turn of the 20th century have proven. Climate change presents yet another challenge.
“We are fighting for our lands, for our water, for our lives,” Jakeline (right), who has received death threats for protesting mining in Colombia, told Global Witness for the report. (Photo: Global Witness)
Last year was the deadliest in history to be an environmental activist, according to a new report that found, on average, nearly four people were killed per week.
Defenders of the Earth, released by U.K.-based human rights group Global Witness, lists the names and locations of 200 environmental advocates who were killed around the world. While the report found Brazil, Colombia, and the Philippines were the nations with the most murdered environmentalists in 2016, Honduras has been the deadliest country for environmental activists over the last decade. Continue reading →
The EPA’s intended rollback of the Clean Water Rule could impact the drinking water of 117 million Americans. (MajJar/Flickr/cc)
Stirring criticism from environmental groups, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt said Tuesday that the Trump administration will take steps to roll back the Clean Water Rule, the Obama-era regulation that grants clear protections to America’s waterways and drinking water supplies.
The Clean Water Rule requires oil companies to develop oil spill prevention and response plans, demands that states identify and develop plans to clean up protected waters that don’t meet standards, and bans companies from dumping waste into protected waters, among other provisions. Continue reading →
From January 1 to August 2, the world’s 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth’s biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. Photo by freemixer / iStock.
Four days after President Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Global Footprint Network (GFN) reported that Earth Overshoot Day 2017 will fall on August 2. Most Americans likely have no idea what that means.
The basic point is quite simple: From January 1 to August 2, the world’s 7.5 billion people will have used as much of Earth’s biological resources—or biocapacity—as the planet can regenerate in a year. During the remaining five months of 2017, our human consumption will be drawing down Earth’s reserves of fresh water, fertile soils, forests, and fisheries, and depleting its ability to regenerate these resources as well as sequester excess carbon released into the atmosphere. Continue reading →
Multiple news outlets reported Wednesday that President Donald Trump was about to make good on his campaign pledge to pull the United States out of the historic Paris climate agreement—a decision environmental groups said would be “a travesty” and “historic mistake.”
Axioscited “two sources with direct knowledge of the decision,” and an unidentified White House official said to the Associated Press that there could be “caveats in the language” Trump uses to withdraw. Politicoadds: “Administration officials cautioned that they are still sorting out the details of how exactly Trump will withdraw, and one noted that nothing is final until an announcement is made.” Continue reading →
It was not always a crime to enter the United States without authorization.
In fact, for most of American history, immigrants could enter the United States without official permission and not fear criminal prosecution by the federal government.
That changed in 1929. On its surface, Congress’ new prohibitions on informal border crossings simply modernized the U.S. immigration system by compelling all immigrants to apply for entry. However, in my new book “City of Inmates,” I detail how Congress outlawed border crossings with the specific intent of criminalizing, prosecuting and imprisoning Mexican immigrants.
Knowing this history is important now. On April 11, 2017, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced his plan to step up prosecutions of unlawful entries, saying it’s time to “restore a lawful system of immigration.” This may read like a colorblind commitment to law and order. But the law Sessions has vowed to enforce was designed with racist intent.
The Mexican immigration debate
The criminalization of informal border crossings occurred amid an immigration boom from Mexico.
In 1900, about 100,000 Mexican immigrants resided in the United States.
By 1930, nearly 1.5 million Mexican immigrants lived north of the border.
As Mexican immigration surged, many in Congress were trying to restrict nonwhite immigration. By 1924, Congress had largely adopted a “whites only” immigration system, banning all Asian immigration and cutting the number of immigrants allowed to enter the United States from anywhere other than Northern and Western Europe. But whenever Congress tried to cap the number of Mexicans allowed to enter the United States each year, southwestern employers fiercely objected.
U.S. employers had eagerly stoked the era’s Mexican immigration boom by recruiting Mexican workers to their southwestern farms, ranches and railroads, as well as their homes and mines. By the 1920s, western farmers were completely dependent on Mexican workers.
However, they also believed that Mexican immigrants would never permanently settle in the United States. As agribusiness lobbyist S. Parker Frisselle explained to Congress in 1926, “The Mexican is a ‘homer.’ Like the pigeon he goes home to roost.” On Frisselle’s promise that Mexicans were “not immigrants” but, rather, “birds of passage,” western employers successfully defeated proposals to cap Mexican immigration to the United States during the 1920s.
The idea that Mexican immigrants often returned to Mexico contained some truth. Many Mexican immigrants engaged in cyclical migrations between their homes in Mexico and work in the United States. Yet, by the close of the 1920s, Mexicans were settling in large numbers across the Southwest. They bought homes and started newspapers, churches and businesses. And many Mexican immigrants in the United States started families, raising a new generation of Mexican-American children.
Monitoring the rise of Mexican-American communities in southwestern states, the advocates of a whites-only immigration system charged western employers with recklessly courting Anglo-America’s racial doom. As the work of historian Natalia Molina details, they believed Mexicans were racially unfit to be U.S. citizens.
Western employers agreed that Mexicans should not be allowed to become U.S. citizens. “We, in California, would greatly prefer some set up in which our peak labor demands might be met and upon the completion of our harvest these laborers returned to their country,” Friselle told Congress. But western employers also wanted unfettered access to an unlimited number of Mexican laborers. “We need the labor,” they roared back at those who wanted to cap the number of Mexican immigrants allowed to enter the United States each year.
Amid the escalating conflict between employers in the West and advocates of restriction in Congress, a senator from Dixie proposed a compromise.
Senator Coleman Livingston Blease hailed from the hills of South Carolina. In 1925, he entered Congress committed, above all else, to protecting white supremacy. In 1929, as restrictionists and employers tussled over the future of Mexican immigration, Blease proposed a way forward.
According to U.S. immigration officials, Mexicans made nearly one million official border crossings into the United States during the 1920s. They arrived at a port of entry, paid an entry fee and submitted to any required tests, such as literacy and health.
However, as U.S. immigration authorities reported, many other Mexican immigrants did not register for legal entry. Entry fees were prohibitively high for many Mexican workers. Moreover, U.S. authorities subjected Mexican immigrants, in particular, to kerosene baths and humiliating delousing procedures because they believed Mexican immigrants carried disease and filth on their bodies. Instead of traveling to a port of entry, many Mexicans informally crossed the border at will, as both U.S. and Mexican citizens had done for decades.
When the debate stalled over how many Mexicans to allow in each year, Blease shifted attention to stopping the large number of border crossings that took place outside ports of entry. He suggested criminalizing unmonitored entry.
According to Blease’s bill, “unlawfully entering the country” would be a misdemeanor, while unlawfully returning to the United States after deportation would be a felony. The idea was to force Mexican immigrants into an authorized and monitored stream that could be turned on and turned off at will at ports of entry. Any immigrant who entered the United States outside the bounds of this stream would be a criminal subject to fines, imprisonment and ultimately deportation. But it was a crime designed to impact Mexican immigrants, in particular.
Neither the western agricultural businessmen nor the restrictionists registered any objections. Congress passed Blease’s bill, the Immigration Act of March 4, 1929, and dramatically altered the story of crime and punishment in the United States.
With stunning precision, the criminalization of unauthorized entry caged thousands of Mexico’s “birds of passage.” By the end of 1930, the U.S. attorney general reported prosecuting 7,001 cases of unlawful entry. By the end of the decade, U.S. attorneys had prosecuted more than 44,000 cases.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the vast majority of immigrants imprisoned for breaking Blease’s law were Mexicans. Throughout the 1930s, Mexicans never comprised fewer than 85 percent of all immigration prisoners. Some years, that number rose to 99 percent. By the end of the decade, tens of thousands of Mexicans had been convicted of unlawfully entering or reentering the United States. The U.S. Bureau of Prisons built three new prisons in the U.S.-Mexico border region: La Tuna Prison in El Paso, Prison Camp #10 in Tucson and Terminal Island in Los Angeles.
Only the outbreak of World War II halted the Mexican immigrant prison boom of the 1930s. The war turned the attention of U.S. attorneys elsewhere, and Mexicans workers were desperately needed north of the border.
With few exceptions, prosecutions for unlawful entry and reentry remained low until 2005. As a measure of the war on terror, the George W. Bush administration directed U.S. attorneys to adopt an “enforcement with consequences” strategy. In 2009, U.S. attorneys prosecuted more than 50,000 cases of unlawful entry or reentry. The Obama administration continued the surge, betting that aggressive border enforcement would help bring a recalcitrant Congress to adopt comprehensive immigration reform. It did not.
By 2015, prosecutions for unlawful entry and reentry accounted for 49 percent of all federal prosecutions and the federal government had spent at least US$7 billion to lock up unlawful border crossers.
Throughout this most recent surge, the disparate impact of criminalizing unlawful entry and reentry has endured. Today, Latinos, led by Mexicans and Central Americans, make up 92 percent of all immigrants imprisoned for unlawful entry and reentry.
Attorney General Sessions still wants more. Traveling to southern Arizona to announce his plan to even more aggressively prosecute unlawful entry, he signaled that, in the years to come, most prosecutions will happen on the U.S.-Mexico border and will target Mexicans and Central Americans.
When the number of Mexicans as well as Central Americans imprisoned on immigration charges soon booms, there will be nothing unwitting or colorblind about it. Congress first invented the crimes of unlawful entry and reentry with the purpose of criminalizing and imprisoning Mexican immigrants and it has delivered on that intent since 1929. The Sessions plan will bear a similar result and, in the process, discharge the racist design of Blease’s law.
Following closely on last week’s March for Science, activists are preparing for the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29. This event will mark President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, and comes as the Trump administration is debating whether the United States should continue to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.