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Climate Hero Clayton Thomas-Müller

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Photo courtesy of the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Clayton Thomas-Müller is working to keep corporations from privatizing the atmosphere, as they have privatized the land and exploited the natural resources that once belonged to  the First Nations of Canada. As an activist with the Indigenous ­Environmental Network, Thomas-Müller campaigns against the multinational oil companies that are stripping crude oil from the Alberta tar sands and leaving behind toxic heavy metals and carcinogens that pollute nearby native lands. Indigenous people around the world are among those most affected by fossil-fuel development, and Thomas-Müller is organizing those communities to make sure they have a voice in the United Nations climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.

What is the impact of the fossil-fuel economy on indigenous communities?

Thirty-five percent of North America’s fossil fuels and around 80 percent of its uranium are underneath native land. Native communities face incredible pressure to enter into the industrialization game.

What influence has tar sands development had on the communities you work with?

The five First Nations in the region of the tar sands rely on traditional food sources, like moose, fish, beaver, and muskrat, all of which have become contaminated by mining pollution. We’re talking about a community of just 1,200 that’s seen more than 100 deaths in the last decade from rare cancers and autoimmune diseases. The tar sands leases also violate aboriginal treaty rights; they were sold by the provincial government without the prior informed consent of local communities.

Based on the experiences of indigenous people, what should a climate agreement at Copenhagen include?

Focusing only on market-based solutions, most of them voluntary, will lead to further privatization of the commons, like the forests in the Global South and here in northern Canada. The strategy will commodify the Earth’s atmospheric carbon-cycling capacity. Privatization has serious implications for those living in communities near big emitters, and for everybody on Mother Earth who uses these commons to sustain life.

For example, the number one reason why Canada has never ratified the U.N. Declaration of Rights of Indigenous Peoples or made a Kyoto commitment is because Canada’s economy is based on extracting raw resources and selling them to our biggest trading partner, the United States. The only way to stop the tar sands extraction is through aboriginal and treaty rights negotiation strategies, led by First Nations in Canada.

Going into Copenhagen, we’re saying, let’s not lose sight of binding mechanisms—laws. Let’s have the governments of the world take back their sovereignty from corporations. Let’s stop subsidizing corporations with public funds. When corporations violate their emissions caps, let’s fine the hell out of them and divert those resources to the renewable energy economy.

Kate SheppardKate Sheppard conducted this interview for Climate Action, the Winter 2010 issue of YES! Magazine. Kate covers energy and environmental politics from Washington, D.C. She currently writes for Mother Jones and was previously the political reporter for Grist.

Meet all our Climate Heroes:

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Clayton Thomas-Müller


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