By Michelle Aboagye
Over recent years, the climate change debate has permeated all aspects of life, particularly in the media and amongst non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The reporting of several of the Extinction Rebellion protests from 2019-2022, as well as the continuous platforming of climate change sceptics in the media may have contributed to the popularity of the climate change debates in society today, yet some key points continue to be left out. This blog will explore these forgotten key points, namely how Black countries are affected by climate change and how indigenous communities protect their environments and adapt to climate change.
Climate change refers to the long-term shifts in weather patterns and temperatures. Although these shifts can be natural, industrial activity in the 1800s and other human activity involving coal, oil, and gas have been the main drivers of global climate change around the world. Since the Earth works as a well-connected system, weather and climate changes in one area affects others. It is therefore important to not think of climate change as an issue that affects specific groups, but as an issue that ultimately affects everyone. Today however, it is clear that the climate crisis does not affect everyone to the same degree.
For example, Africa and the Caribbean among others are disproportionately affected by the climate crisis despite generally contributing very little in comparison. The 10 largest greenhouse gas-emitting countries, which include countries such as the US and China, contribute 68% of global emissions, whereas the 100 least emitting countries (which include countries from Africa and the Caribbean) altogether contribute 3% of global emissions. Despite the great difference in contributions, the climate crisis disproportionately impacts Black countries and impacts their way of life.
In the Caribbean, higher intensity hurricanes will be more frequent, as some of the area is located in a hurricane alley where hurricanes form. This was seen with the Category 4 Hurricane Matthew in Haiti in 2016 which left more than 1 million people in need of humanitarian assistance. Climate change is also causing extreme weather in both Africa and the Caribbean in the forms of intense droughts, flooding, higher intensity tropical storms, and longer dry seasons due to reduced rainfall. Climate change ultimately affects the health, security, livelihood, and food and water systems of people in Africa and the Caribbean, and makes them more vulnerable.
In fact, those who have contributed the least to the climate crisis actively care for and protect the environment, and have their own practices which ensure sustainability. Indigenous communities have always had ways of protecting their environments and promoting environmental consciousness, which can be described as being mindful of how your actions impact the environment. Indigenous African communities in particular have taboos, folklore, customs, traditions and more associated with the natural environment in order to ensure its protection and the promotion of environmental consciousness amongst its members. Many indigenous communities accept that the environment ‘came before them’ and that they must treat it with care and respect.
The Busua and Axim people of Ghana have taboos associated with fishing in bodies of water (rivers, lakes, and seas), with the most widespread taboo being fishing on Tuesdays and cleanliness. This is mainly out of respect for sea gods, and it also allows for the repopulation of sea creatures and gives fishermen a chance to mend their tools. In these communities, the sea and other water bodies are regarded as an entity who demands respect and consideration. Because of this, the sea and its gods are said to dislike people who are not clean (physically and spiritually) and people who participate in activities that pollute the sea. Failure to follow these customs can result in punishments in the form of fines or even the threat of angering the sea gods. This anger is believed to manifest as general bad luck, a lack of success in fishing, or even health issues.
Although they come with a risk of punishment, these taboos effectively promote environmental consciousness and sustainability. The existence of these taboos, customs, traditions, and more display that environmentalism is a strong aspect of indigenous cultures. Moreover, indigenous communities are societies that have interacted extensively with their environments and passed this knowledge on orally over generations. These communities are recognised to have unique relationships with their natural environments and hold indigenous knowledge. This refers to the understanding and know-how that is collected and shared over generations of native communities. It guides these societies in all their interactions with their environment. Things such as values, beliefs, culture, languages and more affect indigenous knowledge.
Indigenous African farmers, elders and community leaders, for example, tend to hold deep knowledge about their climate, weather patterns, and its variations. This knowledge has been collected over several generations by observing natural phenomena and the natural environment, such as observing moon phases and colours, constellations, animal behaviour, and more. Idigenous African communities are already observing the impacts of climate change mentioned earlier, such as longer dry seasons, shorter rainy seasons and rainfall that is harder to predict.
Although the effects of climate change present unique problems to these communities, they continue to display their resilience and readiness to adapt by continuing to observe the effects of climate change in order to respond by planning and implementing the ways they will adapt. When the higher-intensity storms occur and cause flooding, indigenous communities in Swaziland observe the behaviour of the local emahloko birds as a warning sign to alert them to the possibility of flooding. When the emahloko birds’ nests are low in the trees, that tells them the chance of flooding is low, and when they are higher up this alerts them that flooding is very likely. Although indigenous communities have developed responses to the effects of the climate crisis, more support from national governments in the forms of policies and other activities are necessary to maintain their efforts.
The effects of climate change and the climate crisis disproportionately affect Black countries of Africa and the Caribbean, although their native populations have environmental protection, consciousness, and sustainability ingrained in their cultures. Today, many people do not realise that Black people and communities will be more affected by the climate crisis as it will impact their livelihoods, food systems, health, security, and more. Urgent action in the form of policies and awareness is necessary to help mitigate these effects. These are also talking points that must be included in the climate change debate.