Climate Change Could Devastate Native Americans’ Way of Life

If you’ve been following the news on climate change over the past few years, chances are you’ve heard of climate refugees — people who are forced to leave their homes due to sea level rise, desertification and other climate-related catastrophes. But what you may not realize is that all of these refugees will come from Africa or small islands in the Pacific. If you live in North America, it turns out that some of these refugees will come from much closer to home.

That’s the takeaway of a new study in the journal PLOS One. The authors warn that within 30 years, Canada’s indigenous tribes could be devastated by the effects of climate change. As rivers warm in British Columbia, wild salmon and herring in the area may disappear — a resource that Native Americans have relied on for food, as a part of their traditional ceremonies, and as a cornerstone of trade.

In the past, glacial melt has kept the streams Pacific salmon favor at a comfortable temperature for the fish, about 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As the glaciers have started to disappear, waterways are rising to dangerous temperatures. At above 70 degrees, adult salmon begin to die.

According to the report, the fish are likely to relocate to colder areas by 2050 as waterways increase in temperature, unless global carbon emissions are somehow slowed. The researchers estimate the fish will move at a rate of 6-11 miles per year, causing the availability of salmon along Canada’s western coast to drop by 20 percent. Indigenous communities have relied on these species for millennia, so this loss would mean a complete change of lifestyle for these coastal tribes. Native communities in Canada aren’t the only ones who should be worried. In the American Pacific Northwest, salmon are already becoming increasingly scarce.

These findings are also bad news for the U.S. and Canada in general. The fishing industry in Oregon and Washington accounts for nearly $1 billion in each state’s revenue each year, supporting thousands of local jobs that otherwise would not exist. Already both states have started to close recreational and commercial fishing areas. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has even shipped 160,000 salmon 100 miles upriver in Oregon to a cooler, more hospitable climate.

While the threat to the tribes of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia is still mostly in the future, there are other indigenous groups already facing the devastating effects of climate change in Alaska. In some areas, melting permafrost is forcing entire villages to evacuate or move their houses further inland to avoid being swallowed up by the sea. For many of the hundreds of Inuit communities threatened by climate change, it’s already too late for climate talks or emissions cuts to do any good. If we are to take any action to help these vulnerable communities, it must be now.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

71 comments

Jack Y
Jack Y5 days ago

thanks

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Jack Y
Jack Y5 days ago

thanks

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John J
John J5 days ago

thanks for sharing

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John J
John J5 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner2 years ago

I doubt that Canada's government gives a crap.. about anything but their own bribes.

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Sen Heijkamp
Sayenne H2 years ago

Why do the Natives always suffer? They seem really cool. I don't understand it. If I had a country I would love having them in it, because they would take good care of it.

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor2 years ago

To all you dumb assess out there, who like to kill/exploit animals, and destroy/pollute their natural habitat for your own sick, twisted pleasure: Real men save/help/protect the animals and the environment!!!! Real men do NOT destroy/kill/poison/exploit them to point where there won't be any left in this world!!!! I really want these low lives who call themselves men to know this as a simple fact!!!! Only then will they stop the destruction to the planet, and all it's natural treasures... unless they want to be viewed as the most stupidest of all humanity, while real humans are supposed to be very intelligent!!!!

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Patricia Harris
John Taylor2 years ago

Beth M., It's never too late to make a difference, NEVER!!!!!!

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Undoubtedly, it will; everything else always does!!

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