In our first-world society, we often view climate change as a distant problem. It certainly is pressing, but the reality of climate change causes us to disregard it out of fear, as not an “immediate issue”. We passively do things to slow it down to feel as though we are doing our part. In his article, “The cultures endangered by Climate Change,” Greg Downey, Evjue-Bascom Professor and Associate Dean for social sciences at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, takes the view of climate change from a different perspective. Using the work of Anthropologist Susan Crate, Downey discusses the way that climate change has already influenced and continues to influence the lives and traditions of the world’s indigenous populations. Maddeningly, climate changes’ effects will probably hit hardest the populations that have contributed to it the least. The effects are already widespread, from extreme droughts in Kenya to unseasonably warm winter temperatures in Siberia. The livelihoods of the cultures existing in these areas and many more are being threatened because they rely so heavily on the environments that are being significantly altered. Hunting, fishing, and herding practices, farming, cultural and ritual practices, and the overall health of these populations are being put at risk.
Amazingly, these cultures have already begun to display the incredible human ability to adapt to a changing environment. The reality is that these societies were already at risk due to the industrialization of the world, and that accelerated climate change has only increased their vulnerability. It seems beyond reason and possibility that these cultures, some of which have existed for thousands of years, would be unable to adapt to these changes. In my opinion, sensitivity from hugely industrialized modern societies to these indigenous cultures is imperative to their continued survival. A world without indigenous peoples would be a deeply saddening end to a hard-fought battle.