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Environmental Justice and Climate Change

For related articles and more information, please visit OCA's Environment and Climate Resource Center page, Organic Transitions page and our Fair Trade & Social Justice page.

Natural Resource Management. Bunky Echo-Hawk (2006).
Credit: Palgrave Journals   


  Note on the Series: I am posting a four-part analysis and discussion of environmental justice and climate change beginning with today's essay on the cultural implications of climate change. Today's post focuses on the importance of protecting arid-sensible ways of life as a source of understanding of adaptation to climate change. I highlight the cases of the rainwater harvesting and community irrigation canal systems of India and the U.S. Southwest.

The goal of the series is to illuminate the connections between indigenous land- and water-based cultures and the broadening climate justice movements. I am especially concerned in this series with exploring issues that connect food sovereignty, cultural autonomy, and climate change. This includes a detailed and critical deconstruction of the idea of GMO crops as the next panacea for solving climate change. The series ends by exploring how the environmental, food, and climate justice movements are converging and how this trend might be amplified as a major aspect of these struggles.  

The Acequia Institute

I first learned about the rain harvesting and canal irrigation systems of India from Vandana Shiva when she visited Colorado College in 1994 to deliver the Daniel Patrick O'Connor Memorial Lecture in Social Justice. After her lecture, we shared a road trip to visit the acequias (community irrigation associations) and common lands ( ejidos) of the San Luis Valley in south-central Colorado.

Vandana was struck by the similarities between the "watershed commonwealth" of the Río Arriba acequias in Colorado and India's own community irrigation institutions that she later wrote about in her book, Water Wars. Like the acequias, the Indian rain harvest and irrigation systems - for e.g., the naula, zabo and kuhl - comprise part of a rich variety of arid-sensible ways of life found across much of the arid and semi-arid regions of the world.[i]

These American Southwest and Indian irrigation systems are widely celebrated as exemplary contributions to the world's cultural heritage as ecologically regenerative technologies and as resilient and equitable water use and management institutions based on right-livelihoods. These qualities suggest these grassroots institutions of local ecological democracy are models for climate change adaptation and an ethnoscience-based challenge to neoliberal corporate privatization of the water common.        
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