Casey Camp Horinek is an elder and the Environmental Ambassador for the Ponca Tribe of what is now called Oklahoma. She is also the Board Chair of Movement Rights. As a result of fracking, pipelines and the Conoco Phillips 66 Refinery, the Ponca community live in one of the worst fossil fuel-impacted areas in the United States, what Casey calls “environmental genocide.” Casey is also a wife, mother, grandmother, and a working film and TV actress in addition to speaking on concerns of Indigenous communities globally. While serving on the Ponca Business Committee, Casey led her community to become the first tribe to recognize the Rights of Nature and Climate in tribal law in the US. In 2022, the Ponca also enacted the Immutable Rights of Rivers statute. Casey has been an outspoken protector and defender of her people and Mother Earth and a global leader of the Rights of Nature movement.
Beyond the Talk of New York Climate Week—It’s Time for Action.
New York Climate Week, with its posturing from global leaders is over. How many unnatural disasters must occur before we accept that we’re reaching the climate tipping point? Depending on who you ask—politicians, fossil fuel executives, lawyers, scientists, people living on the frontlines of climate destruction, the answer is different. But Mother Earth has been telling us with every climate catastrophe the time for talking is over.
September’s Climate Ambition Summit, called by the United Nations Secretary-General, put a decades-overdue spotlight on fossil fuels. In a display of shame and blame, country after country pointed fingers at the largest polluting countries including the United States and China and the fossil fuel industry—but produced no real climate ambition. False and so-called “nature-based” solutions including carbon trading were again discussed, but nothing about how to stop the problem at its source—leaving the oil and gas in the Earth. As an Indigenous Ponca woman from Oklahoma, I know that Conoco Phillips 66 and other oil and gas giants will still have free reign to continue to pollute my community.
Kicking off Climate Week was the March to End the Era of Fossil Fuels, which brought 75,000 people to the streets with ferocity, solutions, and real climate ambition. It was empowering to be in the throngs of like-minded people joining thousands of Indigenous, black, and brown frontline relatives leading the action. Like a symbolic microcosm of climate chaos itself, we took our place at the front of the march as the communities impacted first and worst. The intentional placement of our voices at the front of the march also represents the leadership of Indigenous peoples in standing against fossil fuels that are killing us, and in recognition that our ancestral teachings and relationship with Mother Earth and Father Sky hold answers to living in balance with the Earth. The following week those same Manhattan streets where we marched were underwater from flash floods, and the week after that New York’s skies were again filled with smoke from the climate fires in Canada.
Conspicuously absent from the Climate Ambition Summit was President Biden. His climate hypocrisy is betraying the planet and belying his campaign promises. During his first two years in office he approved more fossil fuel permits than his climate-denying predecessor, and in the first half of 2023 he approved the massive Willow oil project on fragile Indigenous lands in Alaska and green-lighted the Mountain Valley fracked gas pipeline. In between PR stops to survey various climate disasters, Biden claims he has “practically” declared a climate emergency. But this is just more lip service—if Biden actually invoked the 1976 National Emergencies Act to declare a climate emergency, he would unlock a series of Presidential powers that he could deploy to order renewable energy projects, suspend offshore drilling and more.
Enough talk. There is no time left for anything but action.
Fossil fuels account for 90 percent of carbon dioxide emissions and 75 percent of greenhouse gasses which means there is no way to avoid the worst impacts of climate disruption without ending the era of fossil fuels. That should be the end of the discussion, but when it comes to talking about climate change, the loudest voice in any room is always the fossil fuel industry. Their lobbyists and executives dominate the halls (and pockets) of government at all levels, ready to bolster the economic interests of the top one hundredth of the top one percent no matter the cost to the planet’s health. At the 2022 UN Climate Conference of Parties (COP) held in Egypt, there were 600 oil and gas industry lobbyists present, vastly outnumbering the combined delegates from the 10 most climate-impacted countries. Notably, the second largest contingent was Indigenous Peoples, whose bold actions and traditional knowledge have proved effective in protecting 80% of the world’s remaining biodiversity.
Mother Earth has been asserting natural laws more forcefully with every passing year. The Indigenous-led global movement for the Rights of Nature which seeks to align human laws with the natural laws is an obvious solution. In just over a decade, over 30 countries have recognized legal standing and rights for ecosystems, watersheds, and forests to thrive and carry on their natural cycles. These laws have been used to stop harmful development projects. Tribes, including my own, the Ponca Nation working in partnership with Nature and Indigenous rights-based groups like Movement Rights, have passed these laws to thwart drilling and other harms and begin the healing with the Earth that is necessary for our survival as a species.
Traditional Indigenous leadership has been crucial to the climate movement including standing in front of the machines of destruction. We do this not just for Indigenous people but for the waters, all living beings, and those yet to be born. And it has been successful. From stopping the Keystone XL pipeline to the hundreds of thousands of water protectors who showed up at Standing Rock to stop the Dakota Access pipeline we have stood on Sacred Earth for Water, for Life, for Future generations. But it can’t be just red, black, brown, and poor communities placing our bodies on the line. It will take all civil society standing together.
The fossil-fuel industry and the politicians they control have admitted that grassroots action works. In the wake of the many successful grassroots actions to stop or delay pipelines, LNG facilities and the like, corporate-backed legislation was drafted criminalizing fossil fuel protests under the guise of protecting industry property. The first anti-protest law was passed in my home state of Oklahoma in 2018. State representative Scott Biggs (R-OK) cited the success of Indigenous-led actions as reason enough to support the trampling of constitutionally protected rights saying, “[The bill] is a preventative measure…to make sure that doesn’t happen here.” Since then, at least 20 states have rolled out similar laws that make demonstrating against fossil fuel projects a felony, including years of jail time and heavy fines.
The era of fossil fuels must end, and civil society must be the tip of the spear puncturing the myth that they are necessary for humans to live. We must continue take to the streets in non-violent direct action. If we’re going to talk, let’s use our voices to call out the fossil fuel oligarchs for the climate mass murderers they are. Let’s point to the myriad solutions that are all around us, many deeply rooted in Indigenous cosmology that we are all connected to one another in this sacred system of life.
From peaceful civil disobedience to recognizing legal Rights of Nature, supporting Indigenous Land Back, suing Big Oil on behalf of future generations, innovative renewable energy and just-transition strategies—it’s got to be action-only to heal the Earth from now on. If you’re not actively engaging in climate justice, you’re complicit in the extinction of the human species and our non-human relatives. It’s that simple. If we want more power than the fossil fuel industry over our destiny, we’re all going to have to lead the march together. And let’s keep pushing until President Biden truly declares a Climate Emergency.
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Working with Tribes and Communities to Align Human Laws with Natural Laws and advance climate justice. We are in the streets, in the news and in the courts, providing research and reports, convening strategic gatherings, speaking at the UN, community meetings, regulatory hearings, and more. We work with national and global climate allies, sovereign Indigenous Nations and communities. We have helped thousands of people connect the dots between the critical time we find ourselves in and the solutions that Indigenous people have always known: human activity must take place within the natural system of laws that govern life on Earth. We sit on the steering committee for People Vs Fossil Fuels coalition, and are a co-founder and Executive Committee member of the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature. Movement Rights works for climate justice, the rights of Indigenous peoples and the Rights of Nature. Consider making a donation today to support our work.