Gulf tragedy highlights need for Native renewables

 

Six weeks after the blowout, the calamity in the Gulf of Mexico shows no signs of abating – in fact, information emerging from the region continues to reveal new dimensions of the disaster. Media reports suggest that this is the worst environmental catastrophe in history; that long-term damage to the Gulf’s ecosystem will cripple not only the biotic community, but the regional economy; that the government mishandled the disaster and continues to fail to properly protect the ocean.

Whether we term ourselves “environmentalists” or not, and even whether we are aware of it or not, the gushing wound on the sea floor impacts all of us as individuals and as a society. Carolyn Raffensperger of the Science and Environmental Health Network writes that “the deep intuitive sense is that the ocean is a commons — we all share it. . . . The commons are the foundation of our economy. Without a healthy ocean, or local prairie or forest, without clean air and water, without the web of life, all of our dollars are worthless.” On this small and living planet, damage to one portion of the whole is damage to the whole. 

When damage occurs because of our reliance on fossil fuel-based energy production, we are called to reassess and revise the foundations of our shared energy economy. How can we, who are so dedicated to the beautiful terrain of the western United States, respond to this massive spill in the Southeast in such a way as to advance our whole nation’s interest in developing clean, sustainable fuel sources and reducing energy consumption?

The Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) recently released its Four Principles for Climate Justice [PDF], calling for a comprehensive approach to climate stabilization, social and economic justice, and respect for the earth. The Principles charge the world community to do the following: leave fossil fuels in the ground; find solutions to climate change that move away from market mechanisms and towards true equity; require industrialized and developed nations to take full responsibility for their environmental impact; and ensure that corporations and countries live in a good way on Mother Earth.

One way that we in the West can heed this call is by supporting the groundbreaking work for renewable energy development on tribal lands, fostered by grassroots indigenous environmental groups like IEN, the Navajo Green Economy CoalitionHonor the Earth, and others. Desert and plains lands are home to vast and sustainable “reserves” of solar and wind energy – and are also subject to coal, oil, and uranium extraction, energy development, fuel transportation, and waste dumping. Indigenous leaders are pointing the way to a clean fuels renaissance through green energy development, which would also significantly boost tribal and regional economies through green jobs creation.

The case for sustainable energy development on tribal lands is strong. Advocates assert that tribal lands have the potential for approximately 535 billion kWh/year of wind power generation, and 17,000 billion kWh/year of solar electricity generation. Tribal leaders are recognizing the economic possibilities inherent in this energy potential; last summer the Navajo Nation Council passed an historic bill establishing a Green Economy Commission and Fund, and the movement among tribal members and tribal leadership towards green energy continues to grow.

We can support this power shift by opposing harmful, dirty energy development on tribal lands – including the renewed push for uranium extraction; extant and proposed pipelines spanning the width of the nation to pipe oil from Canada’s tar sands to Southern refineries; coal mining and development; and other, similar projects. We can offer our voices and resources in support of indigenous environmental organizations building a green economy. And we can demand that our federal leadership creates strong federal and international policy on sustainable energy development. The grievous disaster in the Gulf shows us that our collective work is cut out for us, and we can start right here at home.

Caitlin Sislin, Esq. is the Advocacy Director for Women's Earth Alliance, where she coordinates the Sacred Earth Advocacy Network -- a network of pro bono legal and policy advocates in collaboration with indigenous women environmental justice leaders.  For more information about Women’s Earth Alliance, please contact Caitlin at [email protected].

 

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