The effects of climate change on indigenous communities


camila rosado
Paola Andrea Sanabria Galan
Catalina De Los Angeles Cadena Ramos
Angie Giuliana Rodríguez Pineda

Climate change is the beginning and the end of life itself. According to Charles Darwin, the environment favors the survival of species or, on the other hand, their extinction. The same goes for the connection between climate change and indigenous communities. This article will show how climate change has affected indigenous communities from an environmental, economic, social and cultural point of view.

environmental axis

Anthropogenic emissions (The Anthropocene and anthropogenic emissions)
Unlike past periods (Pleistocene and interglacial and glacial epochs), where changes in temperature were generated by natural causes and were secular and of small and short magnitudes (Roberts, N., 2014), it is currently considered that the Recent climatic changes are, in large part, the result of the unbridled lifestyle that we humans lead.

The industrial revolution set a precedent for economic and social growth, and drastically changed the relationship between humans and nature. We went from being hunter-gatherers to adopting more complex agricultural economies and then moving on to industrial and post-industrial economies. This, together with the processes of globalization, capitalism, population growth and the uncontrolled use of natural resources have caused human actions on planetary systems to increase significantly and have a significant impact on the balance of ecosystem services. because of
With this new agency and the consequences for the environment that it entails, a consensus has been reached that we have entered a new geological era called the Anthropocene.

So, The Anthropocene would represent a time of accelerated and global human impact that has been affecting the biosphere of planet Earth since the industrial revolution (Dürbeck, G., Schaumann, C., Sullivan, H. 2015). Additionally, it is important to note that human actions and decisions are determined by cultural and material circumstances that also entail and determine other actions and consequences. This can be seen represented in the increase in inequality, since industrial economies mainly benefit developed countries and leave developing countries in a situation of vulnerability (Dürbeck, G., Schaumann, C., Sullivan, H. 2015). . This, together with the uncontrolled use of natural resources and productive activities, means that the effects of the climate crisis affect countries and communities with fewer opportunities and fewer resources.

In relation to the above and in a more specific sense, anthropogenic emissions refer to the production of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O), among other polluting substances generated by human activities. productive as the use of fossil fuels, industrial processes, agriculture and livestock, waste, among others (Jacobson, M. & Streets, D., 2009). The emissions generated by these activities are the main causes of the
accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. In the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates were offered on the probabilities of exceeding 1.5oC of global warming in the coming decades due to a greater production and accumulation of greenhouse gases.

Along with rising temperatures also come repercussions such as
alteration of hydrological cycles (greater rainfall in highlands and droughts in subtropical regions), rise in sea level due to the melting of glaciers and permafrost, increase in natural disasters such as floods, effects on the oceans due to warming, acidification and reduction of oxygen levels in the water, also affecting essential ecosystems with coral reefs, among other consequences (IPCC, 2021).

These consequences given by anthropogenic emissions affect all living beings that inhabit Planet Earth, but the native and local communities of coastal areas and which have a cosmological and cultural relationship with nature, in addition to communities that depend on certain ecosystems to ensure their availability of food and health.

Continuing in this way, it must be recognized that by granting human beings a high level of responsibility for the causes of environmental deterioration, it also grants us an agency to produce a change and reduce the impacts generated by the climate crisis on planet earth and minimize the social gaps that have arisen because of the mismanagement of resources and accelerated economic and industrial growth.

Contamination of water sources:

waracapuri cachivera
Colombia is a multicultural country where water is not only considered a vital natural resource for well-being, but also carries with it social and cultural connotations linked to indigenous worldviews and population groups such as peasants and Afro-Colombians. Continuing in this way, the contamination and degradation of Colombia's water sources directly affect local communities that mainly benefit from water. The WHO declared the direct relationship between water and public health, and the importance of having drinking water available. However, anthropogenic stressors have made such availability not possible.

Let's take the Colombian Caribbean as an example. This area of ​​the country has been highly affected by the increase in greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and pollution. The Magdalena River is one of the largest and most polluted rivers in Colombia and its mouth in the Caribbean Sea is also one of the most polluted. This river carries approximately 144,000,000 tons of suspended pollutants to the Cartagena Bay each year (Bortolin, C., Portz, L., Portaniolo, R., 2020).

The increase in contamination by sediments and the acidification of the water caused by greenhouse gases have caused the degradation of coral reefs, which directly affects the quality of the water and the well-being of the populations that inhabit this area of ​​the country. On the one hand, the bleaching of coral reefs affects the species that depend on these ecosystems as sources of food and shelter, endangering the diversity of species present in the water, on the other hand, this phenomenon affects the tourism sector since the Bleaching affects the aesthetic attractiveness of the reefs and the productive sector related to the supply of food and associated economic activities due to the decrease in available fish communities (Bortolin, C., Portz, L., Portaniolo, R., 2020).

Just as the bleaching of coral reefs affects fishing communities and the tourism sector, it also affects the indigenous communities that live in this area of ​​the country. The Wayú are indigenous people who mainly inhabit the La Guajira peninsula; These indigenous people, like other Colombian population groups, do not consider water solely as an economic resource but also recognize its mythological value. He
Water carries with it the connotation of being alive, a source of life and blood of mother earth. Rivers, rain, groundwater and seas constitute a single individual (Daza, A., 2018), so their relationship with water is directly affected by contamination and the lack of availability of drinking water.

Another area of ​​the country that has been highly affected by pollution is the Pacific, more specifically the communities surrounding the Atrato River. For many years this river has been exploited in an uncontrolled manner, intervened by illegal mining which has had a great impact on water quality. As a result of this, the Constitutional Court, through ruling T-622, recognized the Atrato River as a subject of rights in order to guarantee its conservation and protection.

Despite the measure taken by the government, currently the
consequences of pollution caused by mining in this area. Since colonial times, the middle basin of the Atrato River has been an area where a large number of Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities have settled and have used this resource as a source of daily livelihood. With the increase in pollution, the quantity of fish available for consumption and their quality has decreased significantly, which has caused communities to adapt their ways of fishing (Cano,
W., 2017). Likewise, there have also been effects due to the increase in sedimentation in the river caused by mining. Because of this, the depth of the water has decreased, which has a direct effect on the quality of the water and the number of fish species.


Deforestation is one of the main problems we are facing. According to the IPCC, this is one of the 10 main current environmental threats (García Marín, 2016), as it usually leads to problems associated with the loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, an increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, an imbalance in the cycle of water, among others (García Marín, 2016).

The causes of forest loss can be natural and human, the latter linked to the current economic development model. In this sense, agriculture, mining, infrastructure construction and expansion of cities, among others, are the main threats to forests (García Marín, 2016).

On the other hand, one of the consequences that deforestation has on the environment is the release of CO2 into the atmosphere, which impacts the local and global climate in different ways (Global Perspectives on Sustainable Forest Management, 2012). This impact lies in the reduction of radiation absorption capacity, decrease in rainfall, changes in wind flows, irruption of the water cycle and low absorption capacity of solar energy. However, as we live in an interconnected system, the change in these chemical and physical factors also has an impact on the
biological and social factors of related contexts. For example, in the
indigenous communities that are threatened by being displaced from their homes, affecting their customs, beliefs and means of survival.

Moving to the Latin American context, Armenteras & Rodríguez Eraso (2014) state that the main cause of deforestation is agricultural expansion in forest frontier areas, which can be derived from the influence of globalization, increased demand from specific markets (sugar cane, corn, oil palm), urbanization -associated with population growth- and the production of biofuels and hydrocarbons.

However, we cannot forget the growing expansion of livestock in forested areas. According to the FAO report, compared to Livestock Policies, livestock reaches the territories, once they have been used for cultivation. Finding the land devoid of nutrients and minerals, farmers let grass grow on it, turning it into pasture for cattle. Excessive grazing on this land leads to its becoming barren land, thus leaving irreversible damage to ecosystems (FAO). This has devastating causes in countries like Colombia, since the country has high levels of diversity, by losing the forest cover, the natural abundance we have is depleted, compromising the ecosystemic and ethnic-cultural environment (Armenteras & Rodríguez Eraso, 2014)

Social and cultural axis

Forced displacements are defined as an involuntary abandonment of the place of origin. These can occur both internally, that is, within the national territory, and internationally, when people cross borders to other countries.

Historically, efforts have focused on documenting and protecting refugees from wars and armed conflicts, however, we cannot forget a type of displacement that has not been visible, but is already occurring and will continue to increase: displacement environmental. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, in 2018, there were close to 20 million displacements in the world, a trend that will increase as a result of environmental damage (Alonso, 2020).

Focusing on the global context, these exoduses arise because, due to the effects of global warming, people or communities are forced to leave their territories due to soil deterioration, ecosystem damage, extreme natural phenomena, environmental disasters, etc. Thus, they are the consequence of situations that unbalance living conditions, alter productive systems and threaten the survival of species in the areas. Thus, the term climate or environmental refugee was born, defined by the UNHCR as a person displaced in the context of disasters and climate change.

According to Sarmiento-Erazo (2018), the risks can be divided into two types: when the process is gradual and slow, that is, the change in the ecosystem occurs little by little, and economic activities based on ecosystem services they are undergoing changes; or when the phenomenon is dramatic, it has direct and immediate effects on the communities (UNHCR, 2011, cited by Alonso, 2020). However, this type of migration can be directly linked to human action, such as the construction of large infrastructure projects and the extraction of natural resources that cause a loss of territory to the locals and irreversible damage to the related ecosystems, which they force people to move looking for ways of subsistence that they can no longer find in their territory.

Additionally, these changes may be linked to a lack of planning by state entities and prevention programs, leading to an insufficient response to affected communities (Ribbot, 2017). This factor is fundamental, since it can increase the vulnerability of human settlements, since the characteristics of the physical and socioeconomic context for a dignified life in the territory cannot be guaranteed.

In other words, the most vulnerable communities are exposed, both to natural hazards and to a defined context of action (psychosocial aspects) (Ribbot, 2017).

economic axis

The activities caused by man that promote climate change lead to alterations in the rain cycle, directly affecting agricultural activities, as a result of dry seasons. This problem affects one of the main economic sources of indigenous communities. Likewise, when a climate problem such as Covid 19 occurs, the number of tourists that generate income in the areas inhabited by the communities is reduced, such as the purchase of handicrafts, typical food, hostels, etc.

On the other hand, the destruction of indigenous homes due to environmental problems affects economically, not only the communities, but also society as a whole, since it is vital to invest in projects that promise well-being. to the communities.

Sustainable solutions to the climate crisis

Everything is connected, so individual sustainable actions mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases, contributing agents in climate change. Individual goals that reduce carbon footprints can be met through green practices such as bicycling, recycling, reducing plastic consumption, increasing the use of biodegradable products, and reducing waste of resources.

Technology is a tool that can be used for the implementation of digital markets, where the economic sources of indigenous peoples affected by environmental problems, such as Covid 19, can be supported.
Another way to contribute to economic development is by supporting institutions that promote economic support for indigenous communities, in the case of Saving The Amazon, an organization that provides work for communities through forestry farming practices.

In the same way, it is vitally important to share indigenous languages ​​in the busiest cities like Bogotá so that through their culture we can learn from the ancestral teachings that have the fundamental value of saving lives. For a long time, these cultures have made use of natural medicines that, in addition to having a low economic value, have a positive effect on the patient's health, in addition to combating a current problem, which is dependence on this type of drug, which in many cases only become sedative, but do not combat the problem in its complete

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