To tackle the climate crisis, the West should learn from the world’s indigenous populations

Since the beginnings of the industrial revolution, the West has been pumping chemicals and carbon into the atmosphere, as well as destroying the landscapes and livelihoods of indigenous peoples around the world. We have become used to our gluttonous lifestyles and the luxury they bring. 

Image Credit: Dikshajhingan via Wikimedia Commons

Today, we talk about a world that is post-colonial, with the West having withdrawn itself physically from many of the countries it once occupied. 

However, I would argue that the West has continued its colonialism, not as directly as before, but more remotely, in the form of the continued – and until recently, subtle – destruction of the earth’s resources and its people.

The full effects and consequences of the climate crisis have been revealed, and it is time we as a country began to take responsibility for our actions.

Author Franz Broswimmer puts the full scale of our impact into perspective: “Homo sapiens has only been in existence for little more than 130,000 years. Yet, it would take somewhere between 10 million and 25 million years for the natural process of species evolution to rectify the devastation of the Earth’s biodiversity unleashed by human societies over the past, and particularly by recent generations.”

It is hard to comprehend just how strong an impact we as humans have had on the landscapes around us. We see the land as it is, not questioning how different it may have looked in a word without the human race. Arguably, our destructive method of agriculture and settlement began to systematically destroy and damage ecosystems long before we discovered the uses of coal, gas and oil.

Mining Landscape/ Image Credit: Michael Gaida via Pixabay

Scientists have been arguing for years that an entire change in our societal structure is the only way to stop climate change in its tracks and prevent the ecological crisis. We need to start taking responsibility for our actions. 

Scientists have been arguing for years that an entire change in our societal structure is the only way to stop climate change in its tracks.

Some would argue that this is such an alien idea to many as it is so against our nature. However, I would argue that original human nature never included the scale of economic growth that we see today. In fact, the answer to all our problems is right in front of us.

It’s time for Western powers to put their pride to one side and see what they could learn from those they once (and arguably still) look down on and have historically oppressed. Educating ourselves, learning from other cultures is crucial.

We could learn a lot from indigenous people across the planet, for whom nature is integral. These natives’ aims of living within their environment rather than on it are at the core of living as low an impact lifestyle as possible. Take the Nyoongar people of Western Australia for example. Their culture is one deeply rooted in a reverence and respect for the land around them. They understand that they do not own or have a right to claim the earth around them. Additionally, they understand the possibility of their potential depredating impact on the landscape.

As a result, these people traditionally moved with the seasons to ensure that they never exhausted one area of its resources. By the time they came full circle, the land they left the year before would have had time to replenish itself.

Obviously, such practices have mostly been either altered or removed: first due to colonialism and then settlers moving in, taking ownership of the land and the systematic forced integration of the Nyoongar people alongside the other indigenous groups in Australia. However, the important knowledge is still there.

Of course, it is not just the Nyoongar people who would have something to offer in their knowledge of the natural world. Other native groups across Australia; the Torres Strait; the Maoris of New Zealand, this is just in one continent.

In the Southern United States, the Navajo and Pueblo people are just one group in the continent who have beliefs closely interwoven with the land.

Navajo Nation, Arizona/ Image Credit: Ken Lund via Flickr

There is not enough space to list them all, but I think by now you get the message. In its oppression (and in some cases, destruction) of these indigenous peoples, the West has been preventing their care of the land and ecosystems in these areas.

One could argue that the reason such an integrated respect for the land is missing when it comes to the West and its society lies in its roots of Christianity. Although the religion calls for stewardship of the world around us, it does not see the sea, the land and different elements as powers and forces to be respected in their own right.

At some point, the size of a person’s economy became an acceptable way to judge an individual’s importance in its society. This needs to change.

It is crucial that our governments educate themselves in the lives and practices of the indigenous people of other nations. The only way to beat the climate crisis is if countries from all over the world work together. The West must stop this blame game and listen to those indigenous people who have managed to retain their knowledge of the land, despite all the odds being stacked against them.

Featured Image: Kandukuru Nagarjun via Flickr

About Matilda Martin

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