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A Message to Senate Democrats: Tribal Lands Are Not Carbon Dumping Grounds

Targeting Native nations with carbon pricing projects that would disproportionately increase wealth and accumulation for the largest petroleum and mineral polluters at the expense of Native lives is unforgivable and horrifying.

Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca Councilwoman, Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, speaking outside the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in California. (Photo: Christopher D. Cook)

Casey Camp-Horinek, Ponca Councilwoman, Ponca Nation of Oklahoma, speaking outside the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in California. (Photo: Christopher D. Cook)

Climate change continues to wreak havoc. Indigenous peoples everywhere continue to feel it's impacts. When I read the new climate report released last week by the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis and saw their intention to target Tribal Nations for carbon pricing projects there was little surprise in my reaction. 

The Indigenous Environmental Network rejects this report because it fails to include a plan for the phase-out of our dependency on fossil fuels, a just transition to keeping fossil fuels in the ground and ending fossil fuel subsidies. Without taking the steps to meaningfully address environmental justice, and protect frontline defenders against climate change, the report is just more greenwashing that supports the status quo so polluters can keep polluting. The United States has a long history of forcing Tribal nations and communities to bear the burden of society's addiction to the extractive industries, most recently by  pushing carbon pricing mechanisms on our communities. This is just a continuation of a type of capitalism that is based on a historical tradition of exploitation and racism.

"We need to replace capitalism with a new system that seeks harmony between humans, nature and Mother Earth and not this endless 'growth' and 'development' model."

Native nations continue to live at the forefront and frontlines of fossil fuel and extractive projects, impacting our livelihoods, well-being, health, cultural and spiritual survival. Targeting Native nations with carbon pricing projects that would disproportionately increase wealth and accumulation for the largest petroleum and mineral polluters at the expense of Native lives is unforgivable and horrifying. 

Carbon pricing mechanisms are false solutions with little oversight. In addition, these mechanisms do not cut emissions at source and offer no material impact that would effectively address climate change. Carbon pricing has a simple goal: to make it cheaper for governments and companies to meet emission reduction targets. However, this system is designed in such a way that the targets can be reached without actual emissions reductions taking place.

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The vested interests of corporate lobbies, polluting governments, financial institutions such as the World Bank and big conservation and environmental organizations, have supported these schemes, not only to legitimize and expand a clearly unsustainable economic system based on extraction, but also as a source of accumulation, profit, and land grabbing.

"Carbon pricing mechanisms are false solutions ... [that] do not cut emissions at source and offer no material impact that would effectively address climate change."

Carbon trading was introduced within the UN climate negotiations as a way to promote corporate-friendly measures and avoid regulations that would restrict polluting practices. Carbon pricing is a term that was later popularized by the World Bank to include carbon trading (cap-and-trade and offsets), carbon taxes, REDD+ and voluntary carbon markets schemes. This allowed corporations to secure additional profit through trading carbon credits and in some cases tax breaks. The idea behind carbon pricing is to allow corporations to trade their commitments of reducing emissions with fake commodities like a carbon offset. The idea, so the theory goes, is to achieve an overall reduction in emissions through trading and offsetting pollution, rather than reducing extraction and pollution at source. The proponents argue that the free market will guide the process towards the cuts that are the cheapest to make.

Carbon trading privatizes the air that we breathe. It turns the atmosphere into the private property of polluters. Carbon trading and the carbon market system sells the sky. We must be Sky Protectors, our sky is not to be traded.

We need to replace capitalism with a new system that seeks harmony between humans, nature and Mother Earth and not this endless 'growth' and 'development' model. There is only one path forward and that is an Indigenous-based just transition that centers traditional Indigenous knowledge and that respects the territorial integrity and sacredness of Mother Earth.

Tom Goldtooth

Tom Goldtooth is executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

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