The world’s indigenous peoples who are reliant on natural foods and medicines are at great risk due to increasing levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the planet’s atmosphere. The nutritional content (particularly protein and micronutrients essential for life) in all of the world’s commercially produced plants and animals and wild plants and animals has declined by about one-third over the last 100 years. Since the beginning of the industrial revolution in the mid-19th century greenhouse gases have rapidly increased from what had been normal CO2 atmospheric levels to a significant jump in the 1950s when greenhouse gases essentially “exploded” (Clearly a product of human activity). See this atmospheric change in the National Space and Atmospheric Administration’s (NASA) graphic that depicts the atmospheric change in CO2 levels. What effects has this change had on the food on which humans, plants and all other animals rely. What effect has this change had on natural foods on which indigenous peoples rely?
Climate Change is more than a problem for physical destruction of property, flooding, receding glaciers, and markedly more forceful storms and draughts. Climate Change is a global health problem and especially for indigenous peoples reliant on foods and medicines from forest, prairies, high deserts, jungles, the ocean, the tundra and other natural earth places supporting life. But, the problem is also a massive problem for the whole world’s global population of human beings. CWIS researchers began to study the problem in an effort to assess the magnitude of the problem for indigenous peoples.
There appears to be a direct causal relationship between elevated CO2 atmospheric levels from 280 parts per million to more than 400 parts per million and the decline of protein and micronutrient values in plants and animals. Human activity (automobile exhausts, oil and gas production, factory animal farms producing pigs, chickens, cattle, turkeys, and other animals, etc.) is clearly responsible for the rapid rise in CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These gases in turn become absorbed in forests, jungles, pastures, and the ocean by plants, soils and insects and that is thought by climate scientists to be a good thing. These are the “carbon sinks” that reduce CO2 produced by humans and from volcanoes and other natural sources. The problem is that when plants absorb too much CO2 the process of photosynthesis becomes high powered and produces more sugars that displace proteins and micronutrients that naturally occur in plants. The result is that humans and animals consuming these plants consume increasing amounts of sugar and less protein and micronutrients. The results, appears to be—in the view of many scholars—obesity, diabetes, and essentially malnutrition over time when communities rely solely on natural plants and animals. This means that indigenous peoples who are primarily reliant on wild plants and animals or semi-domesticated plants and animals in the wild face the prospect of increased chronic diseases and malnutrition as a result of excessive human greenhouse gas production.
While commercially produced plants and animals may be fortified with vitamins, nutrients, protein (to replace lost nutrition from elevated CO2 with the potential of enhancing human health such fortification is not the case for plants and the animals. Natural plants or animals on the land and in the seas on which indigenous peoples rely are not artificially fortified. Indeed artificial fortification of foods and medicines may be hazardous to human health too. With plants and animals already nutritionally reduced by one-third since the early part of the 20th century, it is possible we are already beginning to see the consequences of lower protein and micronutrient consumption in the birth weight declines among indigenous peoples and what may be increased levels of malnutrition as well as obesity.
These are the preliminary finding of the Center for World Indigenous Studies (CWIS) inquiry into the affects of elevated greenhouse gases in the planet’s atmosphere on the medicinal and pharmacologic benefits of wildlife to indigenous communities. With 80% of the world’s indigenous 1.3 billion indigenous peoples primarily dependent on wildlife for foods and medicines the CWIS special “Meta-study on the Effects of Elevated CO2 on the Nutritional Benefits to Human beings of Natural Plants and Animals” is being undertaken to assess the overall results of studies conducted by indigenous and conventional scholars on the affects of CO2 on plant and animal nutrition. Ultimately the question of this study is how might declining plant and animal nutritional value benefit or harm indigenous peoples.
Finding a solution to the adverse effects of human greenhouse gas production resulting in the rapid decline in food and medicinal value of the natural world is an urgent matter. Indigenous peoples are not the source of the problem of elevated greenhouse gases, but like the “Miner’s Canary” indigenous communities may already be showing the world what happens as a result of the ignorant overproduction of waste into the atmosphere—declining health, obesity, diabetes and malnutrition.
The library is dedicated to the memory of Secwepemc Chief George Manuel (1921-1989), to the nations of the Fourth World and to the elders and generations to come.access here