Renewable energy best choice for Diné

By Andrew Curley, Special to the Times
Navajo Times, JANUARY 24, 2008

The end of 2007 brought the world one step closer to a responsible position on Climate change as a result of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bali, Indonesia.

Former Vice President Al Gore and the UN Committee on Climate Change won the Noble Peace Prize for their efforts to disseminate knowledge about man-made climate change and to begin counteracting the changes, sending a signal to the world community about the need for urgent and drastic action.

The international community, including poor, developing nations, is moving towards placing a cap on greenhouse gas emissions, using either taxation or an emissions trading market such as the European Union has created.

But a solution requires coordination between industry and leadership.

The Bali conference helped define the bottom line for developing nations – such as the Navajo Nation – whose economies are dependent on agricultural, pastoral and fishing, activities that will be most heavily impacted by climate change.

Their need to adapt “raises opportunities to promote sustainable development,” the UN conference concluded.

“Sustainable development” covers a wide range of approaches to reducing greenhouse gases, many of which offer economic benefits as well as positive climate impact.

Yet it seems policymakers on the Navajo Nation are slower than even the Bush administration in accepting responsibility and taking positive action on climate change.

Specifically, the Shirley administration has created an unnecessary and damaging framework in which the Navajo Nation must choose between economic prosperity or environmental protection, a false dichotomy.

Backing coal
Consider the statements of Shirley to Congress in July 2007. He said future federal funding should be directed toward “coal and other fossil fuels” which he claimed are cheaper than renewable energy.

“For the foreseeable future, our primary source of energy will come from fossil fuels, and in the case of the United States, that source of fuel will be coal,” he said. “It is the cheapest and most plentiful.”

No consideration for long-term environmental damage – only consideration on short-term economic gain.

A responsible position would not dismiss sustainable energy technologies as a source of economic development. But Shirley directly advocated against renewable and sustainable energy and government investment in these technologies.

This is not a healthy stance for the Navajo Nation, which should be working to take advantage of the growing framework on climate change rather than trying to deny its relevance.

Other developing economies are able to talk seriously about climate change and work this global problem into their economic agenda.

Even China, the world’s biggest coal-fired polluter, is fast becoming the world’s leader in renewable energy.

The potential for the Navajo Nation in sustainable energy technologies is vast.

UN funding exists to help nations understand their vulnerability to climate change and develop solutions based on the traditional knowledge and practices of their indigenous people.

Working in partnership with the world community on climate change would strengthen Navajo sovereignty and preserve culture far more than saying “yes” to a coal-fired power plant ever could.

Drastic impacts
Conversely, the potential outfall from climate change for the Navajo Nation is drastic.

The Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado Law School says in its 2007 study, “Native Communities and Climate Change,” that climate change will directly affect traditional tribal practices and “relationships with the natural world from the spiritual, cultural, and economic foundation for many Native American nations.”

The effects of climate change will fall disproportionately on tribes, the study predicts, noting that tribes in the Southwest will have to compete for water rights with large urban areas that have greater political clout.

We are plunging forward with a 50-year commitment of tribal water rights and monies without seriously talking about the long-term consequences in our economy, resources and health.

Curley is a staff member of the Diné Policy Institute at Diné College. Opinions are the author’s and not the college’s or his employer’s.



Reprinted as an historical reference document under the Fair Use doctrine of international copyright law.