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