What would Winona LaDuke have us do to keep CO2 emissions out of the atmosphere? Well, I asked her!
Stop doing stupid stuff. Combusting coal is, well, so last millennium, and Navajo and Crow tribal leadership are intent up on resurrecting and staying wedded to a dysfunctional, and archaic fossil fuels economy. Crow’s Cloud Peak Mine, for instance, the tribal government’s newest proposal would add 28.3 billion metric tons of carbon to the atmosphere. Navajo’s decision to buy the BHP Billiton mine, a forty year old coal strip mine will add another big chunk. And it turns out, it doesn’t matter if that coal is burned in the US, or if it’s burned in China. We all live in the same world.
We need a moratorium on fossil fuels extraction and exploration. Here’s how the math works In order to keep our planets temperature from rising about 2 degrees, which is what we really, really want to do, we can only combust 565 gigatons of carbon. That sounds sort of like a lot. The problem is that fossil fuel companies, whether Cloud Peak, the Navajo Nation/Billiton, Exxon, Suncor or whomever hold estimated reserves of 2795 gigatons of carbon on their books as assets or reserves. The tar sands alone represent 240 gigatons of carbon if the other 95 percent is extracted. No idea on the carbon footprint of fracking, and other forms of extreme extraction like blowing off the top of 500 mountains in Appalachia to sell coal to India, or drilling in the Arctic. All I know is that is extreme, and a bad idea.
Stop wasting money and time. There’s the pipelines- the Keystone is about $7 billion of bad investment idea, the Enbridge, Sandpiper, Kinder Morgan, West East, and Line 9, all billions of dollars which could be spent on things like, infrastructure, efficiency and a smart grid. That money and those investments, frankly are going to benefit mostly some guys like Enbridge, Trans Canada, and the Koch brothers, and they are all doing fine , and don’t need our help.
Do the right thing. North Dakota baffles me. That state is the windiest state in the darn country, and what does the state do for an energy policy? Frack hydro carbons. At the Ft. Berthold reservation, Chairman Tex Hall is priding himself in creating the Kuwait of North America, yet that reservation has l7, 000 times more wind energy than they could use. l. And, instead of putting up turbines, which would be like- investing now in the upfront costs and then projecting the price of fuel into the future (this is an energy security and economic security strategy) the Hall administration is keen on fracking, most of the reservation, and putting up an oil refinery, for, say twenty years of oil, tops. Then there’s Montana and the Crow. Crow has 15,000 megawatts of potential. Same story.
The Navajo nation’s aging coal fired power plants- Navajo Generating Station, Four Corners, Page, and San Juan, are hopelessly inefficient dinosaurs. Why spend millions of dollars when the renewable potential of a combination of solar and wind is the answer? That works like this: Utility scale solar matched with utility scale wind, and some smaller projects along the way. The models can be developed in places like Rosebud, Navajo or Crow. The latter two have plenty of energy transmission infrastructure already. Rosebud needs access to power-lines- and tribal leaders need to demand access to these WAPA lines, which after all, were built on our lands, with power from flooding our territories. Someone needs some new math and economics classes in Indian country, honestly. And, tribal sovereignty is not a carte blanche for burning up the planet.
Then there’s the decoupling of our food from fossil fuels. One quarter of the carbon accumulating in the air, is from our industrialized, globalized food system. This is a really bad idea. Some 91 % of our seafood is imported for instance. That’s a lot of carbon, and, frankly some unknown harvesting and growing conditions- from Fukishima to the mangroves of Indonesia. Say we relocalized things a bit, and maybe cut a few things out- (hate to give up that coconut milk, avocadoes and coffee, so maybe we can hang around with a few essentials). Re-localizing food and organic agriculture can reduce our carbon pollution by 25 %. Plus, then we have the added benefit, that we rebuild our local food economies, our traditional ways of life, and have food security into the future. There are some amazing farmers and farming projects at Hopi, Tesuque Pueblo, Ponca, Red Cliff and here on White Earth, as we try to tackle this. And of course those Oneidas and Six Nations kept their agricultural economies pretty strong, but, I am sure need some support, investment and the rest of us need to do the same. Those old seeds- the traditional seeds are nutritionally superior, and are far more resilient in a time of climate change. They just demand a relationship with us, not Monsanto. I find it ironic that the largest agricultural and trade empire in the north, the Hidatsa, Mandan and Arikara territory is not –restored to its glory, and instead, faces loss of all that is, and could be with groundwater contamination from fracking. That is a lack of vision. New glasses over there, please. And, once again , it effects all of us- the cloak of invisibility under which tribal sovereignty makes bad ecological, environmental and cultural decisions is not contained within one Indian nation. We are all impacted- I just happen to live where a pipeline from the Ft. Berthold reservation would cross, if we let them.
Grow traditional foods, and grow smart. Then there’s hemp. Yes, I said it, it’s a four letter word for sure. We’ve become the people who slather ourselves with petroleum bi-products, and we seem to like it. From plastic, to plastic, to body care products, to fertilizers, and car parts. We are becoming petroleum bi products, and GMO corn syrup. Honestly. Now, get real, is that a good idea? Hemp was a mainstay crop, in early industrialization- from sails to fabric to, these days hempcrete. Both Navajo Nation and Pine Ridge have tried to grow this, only to have their crops seized by the DEA, which is, a sham, in the least- since hemp has no THC. Hemp is considered to be a carbon negative raw material, and has some other agriculture potential (North Dakota even thought about it and Colorado legalized its production}. As well, hemp is one of a few plants which is successfully working in phytoremediation. That’s the use of plants to make an ecosystem healthier. Examples where phytoremediation has been used successfully include the restoration of abandoned metal-mine workings, reducing the impact of contaminants in soils, water, or air. Contaminants such as metals, pesticides, solvents, explosives,  and crude oil and its derivatives, have been mitigated in phytoremediation projects worldwide. Many plants such as mustard, hemp and pigweed] have proven to be successful at hyper-accumulating contaminants at toxic waste sites. Cleaning up a mess or two is a good idea while we’re at it. Have a little courage, and get out of some boxes .Put in renewable energy and relocalize our economies, from food to housing, health and energy.
There is vision out there. Thunder Valley Community Development Plan on Pine Ridge is an example of vision being actualized. There, a collection of young and elders, coming together from a spiritual set of teachings and instructions, is creating a community which they envision- local food, renewable energy, sustainable housing, and a way of life which was intended for Lakota people. In their thinking, they define sustainability as,
“…Honoring those who came before us. Meeting the needs of the present generation, not compromising the future so that the coming generations are able to meet their own needs and guide our vision and renew each cycle of life.”
We have a prophecy about this time, as the time with a choice between two paths, one is well worn, but scorched, the other is not worn, and it is green. I think that this time I now, and the choices for first nations are clearly demarked, with some torches of enlightenment and leadership already illuminating for us.