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HEALTH DISPARITIES: Climate Change and Health: A Native American Perspective

Environmental Health Perspectives
Environmental Health Perspectives
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health disparities Climate Change and health: a Native american perspective The intricate, intertwined forces driving global climate change are mirrored by simi- lar complexity in the human response to it. That makes it nearly impossible to anticipate the stance of any one group based solely on a label such as nationality, race, or economic class. But there is ample evidence that the raw drive for survival—the ultimate envi- ronmental health perspective—is a common thread that often compels people to change their behavior. That is the case today for some Native Americans who are feeling the effects of dislocation and food shortages they attribute to climate change. Native American populations com- prise 564 federally recognized tribes and 70 additional tribal entities recognized by 16 states. They make up about 1% of the U.S. population and occupy about 4% of the land. There apparently have been no national climate change polls of this diverse group. But feedback from selected Native American individuals, organizations, and tribes indicates they hold the same full spectrum of opinions that exists within the rest of the country. Among indigenous peoples in North America, the Native Americans who con- tinue to practice traditional and subsistence lifestyles to perhaps the highest degree are those in Alaska, where 80% of the diet comes from the immediate surroundings, says Jose Aguto, policy advisor on climate change, environment, and natural resources for the National Congress of American Indians. Between 2002 and 2007, coastal erosion more than doubled along a 40-mile stretch of Alaska’s Beaufort Sea, accord- ing to a U.S. Geological Survey study in the 14 February 2009 issue of Geophysical Research Letters. The authors posited that numerous climate-related factors may be working together to change erosion patterns. Some coastal villages have been swamped, and substantial shifts are occurring in plant and animal populations as they try to adapt

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