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Richard Arlin Walker
Special to Indian Country Today

Climate change is impacting Indigenous people across the United States and around the world.

With the ocean taking over entire villages and massive flooding becoming more common, tribal nations are struggling to adjust to catastrophic changes in their homelands.

Scientists say human activity is causing changes in the climate to occur faster than residents can adapt.

"Climate change has always happened on Earth, which is clearly seen in the geological record," the U.S. Geological Survey reported on its website. "It is the rapid rate and the magnitude of climate change occurring now that is of great concern worldwide."

(Related: Feeling the heat of climate change)

Here’s a quick look at what is happening:

*Atmosphere: Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere absorb heat radiation, according to a USGS report. “Human activity has increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution, leading to more heat retention and an increase in surface temperatures,” the report states.

*Ocean: The ocean absorbs about 30 percent of the carbon dioxide that is released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. “As a result, the ocean is becoming more acidic, affecting marine life,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, reports. “Rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and melting land ice sheets and glaciers put coastal areas at greater risk of erosion and storm surge.”

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*Water: Glaciers and snowpack release water in dry seasons or summer, when water is most needed. Shrinking glaciers and less snow accumulation mean less water for streams, wildlife and people.

*Flooding: In the Midwest and Northeastern states, the frequency of heavy downpours has increased, resulting in floods and water-quality problems.

*Food: The food supply depends on climate and weather conditions. “Although agricultural practices may be adaptable, changes like increased temperatures, lack of water, and weather extremes create challenges for farmers and ranchers,” NOAA reports.

*Health: The changing environment is expected to cause more heat stress, an increase in waterborne diseases, poor air quality, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents, according to NOAA. Extreme weather events can compound many of these health threats.

*Ecosystems: Habitats are being modified. “The timing of events such as flowering and egg-laying are shifting, and species are altering their home ranges,” NOAA reports.

For more information

*The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs has information about the effects of climate change on Indigenous peoples, and how some of those people are responding.

*The Climate Resilience Toolkit shows what numerous communities are doing to assess local climate-change risks and plan accordingly.

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