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Winona LaDuke: Why I’m Voting for Obama

First nations author and activist Winona LaDuke ran for vice president twice on the Green Party ticket. Here’s why she’s supporting Barack Obama this time around.

This story originally appeared at the Indian Country Today Media Network.

LaDuke portrait-555.jpg

Let’s start big. It’s official. Climate change is no longer a topic of the presidential election banter. Since pretty much no one has mentioned climate change for the past three months, we must be free and clear. As I watch the East Coast get hammered by Hurricane Sandy, and 7.4 million people have no power, I note that politicians may be wrong.

The north Pacific itself is already about 30 percent more acidic than it was 25 years ago. That is climate change.

I just spent an evening with my Harvard classmate Bill McKibben, president of 350.org, who sobered me up a bit on where we are. As of May, we had broken world temperature records for the 327th month in a row. Worldwide, we broke maybe 100,000 temperature records this year. We saw the sea ice melt in the Arctic, making it possible to move through the region and exploit more oil, deeper than ever. Nice, except if you are a polar bear, or happen to live on Christmas Island, Tuvalu, or other Pacific countries that are now going underwater. Then there is our food, coming from the ocean to a Red Lobster near you. The north Pacific itself is already about 30 percent more acidic than it was 25 years ago. That is climate change.

In Copenhagen, in a post-conference accord, 167 countries agreed to not hit the two-degree temperature rise mark. We have already driven global temperatures up 0.8 degrees. And if we are interested in the tipping point: Swiss Re, the world’s largest reinsurance company, predicts that climate-change-related disasters will be costing about 20 percent of world GDP by 2020—that’s a scant eight years, or two presidential elections, away. That will be a costly problem for our economy, and for whomever is in the White House.

World leaders also agreed that we could only burn some 565 gigatons of carbon, and, as McKibben explains, “have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees—reasonable in this case means four chances in five…pretty good, except for this is like roulette.”

Here we see the problem on the horizon speeding towards us and our kids. The fossil fuel industry has about 2,795 gigatons of carbon already in their “reserves.” That is about five times more than we can safely burn without combusting ourselves to oblivion. But it sure looks good on paper and in corporate portfolios.

Now, I am pro life. It just turns out that my definition of pro life is a bit broader than that of the Tea Party.

The Alberta tar sands (or what is at the other end of the Keystone XL pipeline) represent a big chunk of that carbon—about 240 gigatons, give or take a few. Exxon itself, with some 7 percent of the remaining carbon reserves, calls climate change an “engineering problem with an engineering solution. “ Exxon’s CEO Rex Tillerson says, “If we need to move our crop production areas, we will.” This is a bit optimistic. Crop production areas are farms, and they exist on land. You cannot just move a cornfield to the subarctic. And, unless you are divine, it is unlikely you can make it rain when the farmers need it, without dire consequences elsewhere in the world.

Then there is the pro life thing. Now, I am pro life. It just turns out that my definition of pro life is a bit broader than that of the Tea Party. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman’s Sunday opinion piece notes that:

Hard line conservatives have gone to new extremes lately in opposing abortions. In late October, Richard Mourdock, the Tea Party-backed Republican Senate candidate in Indiana declared during a debate that he was against abortion, even in the event of rape. And Missouri Representative Todd Akin told the press that pregnancy as a result of “legitimate rape” is rare because the female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down.

Wow, that is a really interesting factoid that I, who have a uterus, did not know.

Freidman continues:

In my world you don’t get to call yourself pro-life and be against common sense gun control, like banning public access to the assault rifle which was used…in a Colorado Theater. You don’t get to call yourself pro-life and…shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and water, prevents childhood asthma and preserves biodiversity, and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet.

I would add that you don’t get to call yourself pro-life if you advocate—by default—for extinction of species  or for wars that will result in four out of five casualties being non-combatants (that is what wars generally cause).

So, where am I going with this column?

I know President Obama does not share my enlightened views on all issues, but I am dead sure that the terrain should be contested.

I am a person of faith, who does not happen to be Christian.

And I am pro-life, in a much larger sense.

I believe that life should include the Earth.

So there you have it. I am a two-time Green Party Candidate for vice president and I am voting for Barack Obama because I am pro-life and want to see our descendants have a beautiful life on our Mother Earth.


Winona LaDuke (Anishinaabe) is a contributing editor at YES! Magazine, as well as an internationally acclaimed author, orator, and activist. A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities with advanced degrees in rural economic development, LaDuke has devoted her life to protecting the lands and life ways of Native communities.

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