Indigenous Climate Activists Have Prevented Over 1.5 Billion Tons of GHGs

Indigenous resistance has prevented tons of GHG emissions

A new study co-authored by researchers from Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) and Oil Change International has found that Indigenous climate activists in the US and Canada have "stopped or delayed greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution equivalent to at least one-quarter of annual US and Canadian emissions." Indigenous resistance to 21 fossil fuel projects in the two countries has faced both political and violent attacks, and serve as a solemn reminder that climate action comes at a price for those on the front lines.

Why This Matters

Indigenous communities are among those most impacted by climate change and have been at the forefront of the fight to protect lands and waters against fossil fuel interests. Not only that, but climate scientists have found that Indigenous knowledge is crucial to restoring and protecting vital ecosystems and carbon sinks. Despite this, Indigenous people have been left out of climate and policy talks. The success of their resistance movements and climate alliances should serve as a powerful message to governments: Indigenous solutions can guide the intersectional and inclusive policy needed to halt climate change in its tracks.

Resistance at Work

The study analyzed data from nine different environmental and oil regulation groups and found that the 21 projects prevented by Indigenous climate activists could have added 1.587 billion metric tons of annual GHGs to the atmosphere. That is the equivalent of 400 coal-fired power plants or 345 million passenger vehicles. The analysis also found that every year Indigenous activists launched legal action or physically disrupted construction resulted in a reduction of GHGs by 780 million metric tons. Ongoing efforts could prevent another 800 million metric tons annually.

"When you take a step back and look at the work that Indigenous peoples have put in over the years and decades, it really goes to show that we collectively are making a tremendous impact for the benefit of this planet," Dallas Goldtooth, an organizer with IEN, told Grist.

One of the reasons these strategies have been so effective, says Goldtooth, is because the action is coming from an intersectional perspective. They account for climate change and systems of colonialism and white supremacy that uphold and interact with the power of the fossil fuel industry. "From an Indigenous perspective, when we are confronting the climate crisis, we are inherently confronting the systems of colonization and white supremacy as well," he said. "In order to do that, you have to reevaluate how you relate to the world around you and define what your obligations are to the world around you."

Protecting water and land rights has been at the core of Indigenous climate action. Goldtooth says that these protections can serve as a foundation that expands to the entire population. "It backs up what we’ve constantly been saying," he added, "recognizing Indigenous Rights protects the water, protects the land, and protects our futures."

PolicyEd: Colonialism - Then and Now | The Renewing Indigenous Economies Project, April 21, 2020.