environmental sciences

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The Plight Of The Indigenous Peoples Environmental Sciences Essay

Indigenous peoples tend to be a marginalized group of people who maintain their cultural practices. More often than not, the capitalist societies refer to them as a “primitive people”. This is because these people have continued to practice their cultural practices despite the spread of globalization. As Maybury (2002) put it, it is presumed that their ways of life must be destroyed, partly in order to civilize them and partly to enable them to coexist with others in the modern world. Forcing ‘development’ or ‘progress’ on tribal peoples does not make them happier or healthier, In fact, the effects are disastrous (Survival International).

Globalization is the fundamental basis behind capitalist societies. Globalization has metastases all over the world. It is a major threat to the indigenous societies which consists of more than 370 million people globally (Gigoux, 2012). Robinson (2007:125) as cited in (Gigoux and Samson 2009) explains the characteristics of globalization as: (a). A globalized economy involving new systems of production, finance and consumption and world economic integration. (b)New transnational or global cultural patterns, practices and flows, and the idea of global culture (s). (c) Global political processes, the rise of new transnational institutions and, concomitantly, the spread of global governance, and authority structures of diverse sorts. (d) Unprecedented multidirectional movement of peoples around the world involving new patterns of transnational migration, identities and communities. (e) New social hierarchies, forms of inequality and relations of domination around the world.

Industrial Capitalist societies function by the rules of globalization. This means that their main aim is to have economic power at all costs. Where does economic power come from? It comes from tapping into natural resources and any property that will bring eventual profits. Studies have clearly shown that the world’s natural resources are depleting at an alarming rate. Since these world super economies and corporations have to still make profits, they will go to great lengths to make sure they tap into the little that is still untouched. Most of the indigenous peoples live in areas still rich in natural resources. These regions show great biological diversity. Indigenous Peoples generations after generation have lived in symbiotic relationship with the flora and fauna and thus less destruction has taken place in these areas.. It is no small irony that the very reason native peoples have become such prime targets for global corporations and their intrinsic drives is exactly because most indigenous peoples have been so very successful over millennia at maintaining cultures, economies worldviews and practices that are not built upon some ideal of economic growth or short term profit seeking. They do not seek to mine ever more of the natural world they live within for individual benefit, nor do they ship vast mountains of resources (Mander, 2005).

However, with the spread of globalization and its threats, these areas are facing environmental degrading practices such as; logging of forests, dam projects, industrial large scale farming, roads and housing projects, creation of conservation reserves and national Parks and mining. As (Gigoux and Samson 2009) argue, the global effects of fossil fuel consumption, manufacturing and industrial agriculture means that no matter how far a group is from the center of production, they are never immune from environmental effects.

With globalization spreading, and multinational companies creating projects in almost every continent, there is a great threat to the environment. These projects tend to cause irreversible environmental degradation. The concept of Neo liberalism together with the backing of the World Trade Organization (WTO), guidelines: Free trade; Privatization; Deregulation ; Structural adjustment; export oriented Growth; Free movement of Capital (Mander, 2005), the world Super Powers have been able to infiltrate Third world countries and create industrial superiority in these regions. Natural resources can be substantial to a country’s wealth. Having depleted most of their natural resources, Multinational corporations with the backing of their governments, have been able to transfer their businesses to developing countries.

Bio fuel has become a major global industry. It has slowly replaced fossil fuel use over the past few years to allow cleaner energy and thus reduce air pollution. Whilst being a cleaner source of energy and thus improving the environment, it has still done more harm than good. It has led to environmental degradation. This is by destruction of natural tropical rain forests rich in biodiversity. In addition, it has also led to the destruction of the natural habitats of indigenous peoples.

The pygmies of Cameroon consists of four small communities the Baka, Bakola, Bedzang and the Bagyeli (BBBB). The Pygmies are forest dwellers. They live deep in the forest. They are hunters and gatherers and rely solely on the forest for their source of food and medicinal purposes. Not only is the forest a source of food for them, it serves a spiritual purpose. They believe that their god Tore, dwells in the forest and call on him during times of crisis. Their symbiotic relationship with the forest is slowly being broken. Over the years, they have been pushed to the edges of the forest to give room to National reserves. Adding to their plight is the new project by Herackles Farms to extend their palm oil plantation in the region. 72,000 ha of tropical forest are to be destroyed to give way to palm oil plantation. This project will not only affect the livelihoods of these peoples, it will also destroy the rich biodiversity of the forest. The fragmentation of the unique landscape will destroy movement of animal species.

In their report (Butler and Hance, 2011) quote a letter from the concerned communities they ask, ‘what quantity of land will then be left for our prosperity? Currently the local pygmy community and environmental activists are petitioning the stop of this destruction of a highly valuable natural resource and a source of livelihood to many. Cameroon is a member of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It is therefore obligated to listen to its minority group and seek their consent for the project.

In Brazil, in the Amazonian rainforest, an indigenous tribe is also under threat. The Awa tribe is found in the Brazilian state of Mahanrao. This tribe has only 460 people. 360 of who have been contacted. However, 100 of them still live deep in the forest. They are known as the uncontacted Awa. These are the peoples essentially under threat. The Awa are hunters and gatherers and highly dependent on the rainforest for their livelihood. Like the pygmies of Cameroon, the forest provides a spiritual function to the tribe. However, the forest is being destroyed at an alarming rate. Loggers, ranchers and settlers have encroached the forest. They are felling trees for timber, and clearing the forest for housing developments for the new settlers.

In one of their films, The World’s Most Threatened Tribe, Survival International captures the sorrows of one tribesman who asks : ‘why are they doing this to us? If they destroy the forest, they destroy us’. Not only are the loggers destroying the forest, they are killing the Awa people too. Their bows and arrows cannot protect them from the guns. In another film by Survival International ,In His Own Words, an elderly man describes how his wife and son were shot dead by the loggers. Research done by IMAZON found that, the Awa tribe reserve has experienced 3.5% deforestation since 2009. In November 2012, a group of Awa tribesmen went to Brasilia to present their case to the Minister of Justice. The Minister of Justice has the power to stop what is happening in the Amazon forest. They are seeking the government’s assistance to deploy federal police to curb the ‘invaders’. Destruction of the Amazon tropical forest will lead to the endangerment of one of the two only surviving Amazonian indigenous tribes. In addition its degradation will lead to destruction of rich biodiversity for tropical forests are known for their high species hold of both plants and animals.

The Mau forest complex is Kenya’s major water tower. It provides extensive ecological importance to the country: water storage; river flow regulation; flood mitigation; recharge of ground water; reduced soil erosion and siltation; water purification; conservation of biodiversity and micro climate regulation. (Mau Restoration, n.d). It is also of major economic importance to the country. It provides the Western region with water supply and boosts major tea zones. It is also home to the indigenous minority group, the Ogiek. These peoples are hunters and gatherers and forest bee keepers. Hence rely on this forest for their livelihoods. It is a source of food and medicine for them.

In the last decade, the Mau forest has experienced the largest forest destruction in the region. In their 2010 report, the Mau Task Force was keen to point out that 25% of the forest had undergone destruction. The key factors to this degradation are: conversion of forest land into settlements, mismanagement of industrial plantations; illegal forest resource extractions; fires and overgrazing. (Mau Restoration,2012). Due to these factors, the country has been hit by the worst drought cases over the years. Consequently, crop production in the area and shrinking of the major Lakes, Nakuru and Navaisha has occurred. The Ogiek have also not escaped the wrath of the above factors. The Ogiek are commonly known as the ‘caretaker’s’ of the forest (Sang, 2002 p.3) cited in (Ogiek, n.d) .They have been living in this forest since time immemorial. The previous Government had tried to evict these peoples as a way of’ conserving the environment’. In the film, Forest Beekeepers, by Survival International shows a clip of one tribesman asking why the government should evict them in reference to conservation given that they have been conserving the forest since time immemorial. The Ogiek have watched as their homes in the forest have been torched by the squatters. The Ogiek have watched as their ancestral land is abused by squatters, tea plantations and charcoal burners.

However, these peoples have recently been empowered. Together with the Mau taskforce, the Ogiek elders have been working to come up with solutions. Empowerment of these peoples has shown resilience on their part. United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous peoples [Article 10]: Indigenous peoples shall not be forcibly removed from their lands and territories. They have fought the Government and taken legal action. With the implementation of Kenya’s new constitution, which considers minority groups’ rights, the Ogiek have been able to go to the courts and be heard. ‘The Ogiek Peoples are just a few short steps away from reaching a legal agreement that would secure their ancestral land rights’ (Schertow.J, 2012).

Energy is a fundamental component of Industrialized Capitalist societies. It is a key drive of globalization. Industries need energy to maximize on profits. A shift from fossil fuels to hydroelectric power has occurred in most industrialized and developing countries in the world. Take the example of Brazil, over the years it has switched to hydro electric power to serve an ever growing urban population. Dams in the present century are among the major development projects undertaken by Nation states (Joji, 2010). Dams are said to be a source of clean renewable energy and thus believed to have little environmental degradation. However, dams have caused major environmental impacts that are irreversible. Environmental impacts of dams stretch much further downstream than the location of the actual dam site (WWF n.d). Some of the environmental impacts are: destruction of the natural flow of rivers; disruption of silt deposition; degradation of quality of water; greenhouse gas emissions especially in the tropics.

These environmental impacts consequently affect the social life of human beings and animals. (Mc Cully, 1996 cited in Joji, 2010) notes that all over the world, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities constitute the largest proportion of people who have lost their livelihood to large dams.

Gibe III dam, currently under construction in Ethiopia has been marred by a global outcry for its construction to be halted. The Government of Ethiopia aims at selling the electric power to neighbouring East African countries. However, in the wake of economic development, comes disastrous social and environmental impacts. The Omo river valley is a fragile ecosystem that provides a source of livelihood for close to eight indigenous peoples. These people are agro pastoralists. ‘Unless stopped, the dam is on the track to be one of Africa’s worst development disasters (International Rivers, 2010). These peoples depend on recessional cultivation for crop production. During the flooding season, the Omo River floods the basin and provides water and deposits silt rich in minerals. The harvest from this is what sustains these peoples during the long dry spells. With the completion of the dam, these natural floods will be affected. The operators of the dam insist that they will be releasing water to flood the banks. This brings one key problem, the indigenous peoples will be at the mercy of these operators. The Karo tribe consists of close to 1500 individuals, they depend on the Omo River for fishing. They are already experiencing reduced fish stocks. The construction of the dam has already started affecting the spawning of fish in the river.

The Ethiopian government did not consult the Indigenous people thus ignoring their free and prior consent before the project. In its commentary report, the African Resource Working Group (ARWG, 2009), critiqued the downstream EIA report by Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo). The EIA report had clearly omitted and fabricated its findings in order to seek funding from donor states and other funding bodies. The evaluation had the following key pointers that the report failed to show: radical reduction of inflow to Lake Turkana, since the Omo river provides up to 90% of the total input to the Lake; risk of seismic activity in the Gibe III project region with possibility of a major seismically determined event- including earthquake and massive landslide potential; major tri country, transboundary ecomonic, political and ecological repercussions involving southwestern Ethiopia, northwestern Kenya and South eastern Sudan; elimination of the riverine forest and woodland, due to at least 57% to 60% reduction of river flow volume, with accompanying destruction of forest biodiversity and virtually all riverine associated economic activities, including human settlement cessetation of all recession cultivation along the Omo river and throughout the Omo delta, resulting in economic collapse for tens of thousands of agropastrolists who are directly dependent upon such cultivation for their survival.

Even after, this report and many published International reports, donor nations and funding bodies still went ahead and funded the project. There has been an implicit ignorance of the hazardous effects of these projects by these bodies. The World Bank and the African Development Bank have gone ahead and funded this project. It is therefore clear that the nation state and these corporations drive is economic development, selfishly ignoring the rights of Indigenous peoples of the Lower Omo River basin.

Extractive Industry activities generate effects that often infringe upon indigenous peoples’ rights (UNHCR, 2011). Mining is one of the leading causes of environmental degradation globally. Liberization of the mining industry has resulted in legalized land grabbing by mining corporations which has deprived indigenous peoples of their ancestral domain rights.(Tebtebba Foundation and the International Forum on Globalization). The Palawan Island - Philippines is under the threat due to Nickel mining activities. The Island boasts a rich biodiverse environment. It is also home to close to 40,000 indigenous peoples. These indigenous peoples rely on the rivers and creeks for fishing. They also practice shift cultivation. They clear a small area of the forest and grow food before moving on and allow the forest to regenerate. They also collect honey and hunt wild pigs. The Island is also rich in Nickel. Most of the nickel on earth is inaccessible. However, Palawan nickel is accessible and has thus brought interest from the Government and Multinational Corporations. Both Large scale and small scale mining is currently taking place in the region. Mining has great environmental and social footprints. It has the following repercussions on the environment: destruction of landscapes; destruction of agricultural and forest land; sedimentation and erosion; soil contamination; surface and groundwater pollution; waste management. All these impacts consequently affect bring about social impacts. The Mining Act of 1995, allowed mining to be conducted even in key biodiversity sites such as the south of Palawan. Palawan is host to 40% of the country’s remaining mangrove areas, 49 animals and 56 Plant species which are globally threatened with extinction are also found in Palawan ( Alyansa Tigil Mina ATM, 2011). Local farmers and indigenous peoples together with the robust flora and fauna are experiencing the wrath of nickel mining. Since the start of mining in the area, there has been a distinct drop in agricultural produce and fisheries have been affected too. This is due to soil and water contamination. The rivers have been contaminated with waste drainage from the mining site. Preliminary findings showed biological deaths of two rivers. The Pasi River showed mortalities of shellfish, fish, aquatic and coastal plants and other organisms within its ecosystem. Pulot River showed distinct disclouration in the river bed an indicator that the river is saturated by weathered nickel precipitates (Kalikasan, 2012).

A film by The Centre of Biocultural Diversity (CBCD) at the University of Kent, Palawan: voices from the” the last frontier”, depicts the plight of the local people. One tribesman is seen showing how the mining surveyors have been dumping waste in their ancestral lands. Another describes how the water is no longer transparent and the fish are rotten. A Tangtuaba mother expresses her worry that future generations will not be able to experience the beautiful forest due to mining activities. The health of these Indigenous peoples has also been affected by the mining. Contamination of their water and destruction of the forest has exposed this people to diseases not known to them. These peoples rely on the trees for medicinal purposes. Unfortunately, most of the trees have been cut. They cannot afford medical expenses either. Like most cases depicted in this essay, the Indigenous communities of Palawan are being robbed off their source of livelihood and culture. The government, together with multi- national corporations has failed the indigenous peoples. Companies have abused the principle of free, prior informed consent and participation of Indigenous communities. (Tebtebba Foundation and the International Forum on Globalization n.d). The Indigenous peoples of Palawan are slowly becoming slaves to the mining industry. Starvation and poverty continues to become a reality in the region.

It is clear that the environment is viewed differently by indigenous and capitalist societies. The indigenous peoples have a symbiotic relationship whereas the indigenous peoples have an exploitative relationship with the environment. Secondly, the indigenous peoples see the environment as a spiritual function in their lives. The capitalist have no connection with the environment apart from profit making. Indigenous societies view the environment as communal a commodity, industrial capitalists view it as an individualistic source of superiority. The indigenous peoples practice sustainable traditional ecological practices. Capitalists on the other hand practice sustainability only after destruction of resources has occurred. The idea of future generations is not important to capitalist societies. However transfer of ecologically friendly practices to every generation is highly important to the indigenous peoples. With these different ideologies of the environment, it is clear that the Industrial capitalists have caused destruction of the environment. Neo liberalism has caused the capitalist societies to invade areas that were once highly biodiverse and rich in natural resources. Their activities are causing extinction of not only flora and fauna but also extinction of some Indigenous peoples of the world. Destruction the environment is destruction of these peoples livelihood for they are one with the environment.

Natural resources have tremendously diminished globally due to industrialized practices. Indigenous ecological knowledge has proven to be sustainable. It is time the Industrial capitalist societies borrow these practices from them. The big question therefore is, can economic growth be compatible with Indigenous Ecological Knowledge?


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