Higher Education , Culture & the Family

Ray Carter | December 6, 2023

OU study: Native American population growth raises climate-change risk

Ray Carter

A new study authored by eight officials at the University of Oklahoma claims Native Americans in Oklahoma face a 64 to 68 percent higher risk of heavy rainfall, two-year flooding, and flash flooding due to projected climate change than their non-Native neighbors.

In an article posted on OU’s website, Yang Hong, a professor of hydro-meteorology-climatology at OU and one of the paper’s authors, declared, “Indigenous communities are grappling with an imminent climate crisis compounded by systemic injustices.”

But there’s one catch.

The paper—“Future Heavy rainfall and flood risks for Native America under climate and demographic changes: A case study in Oklahoma,” published in the American Meteorological Society’s Weather, Climate, and Society journal—predicts most of the increased climate risk is the result of Oklahoma tribal citizens having children and grandchildren and an ever-increasing number of descendants through the end of the century, more than doubling their numbers.

The paper notes that in 2013 the total Native American population in Oklahoma was estimated to be 288,801. Researchers projected that figure will rise to 603,034 by the end of this century.

As the number of Oklahomans who are tribal citizens increases, so does the likelihood that someone of Native American heritage will be in a place impacted by bad weather that researchers predict will happen due to alleged climate change.

The paper examined projected future extreme rainfall, floods, and flash floods.

The authors say that population increases “outweigh climate changes” for heavy rainfall and flash floods “meaning that population growth contributes more to increased exposure than climate change” for Oklahomans of Native American descent. The paper emphasized that “exposures due to flash floods are primarily driven by population growth.”

Page 16 of the study includes bar graphs showing the estimated percentage increase in risks facing citizens of more than 30 tribes in Oklahoma. The bars are color-coded to reflect the share of risk associated with increased population of the tribes as well as the share of risk associated with projected climate-change scenarios.

While the study projects that citizens of most Oklahoma tribes will face anywhere from a 50-percent increased risk of flash floods to 950 percent, the bar graphs indicate that nearly all the projected risk increase for every single Oklahoma tribe is either totally, or overwhelmingly, the product of increased population among those tribes through the year 2100.

On the other hand, projected climate change plays a role, and only a minor role, for just seven of the tribes when it comes to flash floods.

If a rising population of Native American tribal citizens in Oklahoma equates to increased climate-change risk for those groups, then what policy should be pursued to address that alleged problem?

“Activists and researchers who uncarefully suppose a link between population growth and climate change are promoting unhelpful pseudoscience.” —Lyman Stone, American Enterprise Institute

The paper suggests, at least implicitly, that population control of Native American tribes is worth a try.

The paper declares that if current tribal population numbers are maintained “future risks of heavy rains and floods raised by climate change will be halved.”

That policy does not appeal to all Oklahomans.

“This is absolute buffoonery,” said state Sen. Shane Jett, a Shawnee Republican who is Cherokee. “This professor is pushing woke drivel trying to combine two Marxist platforms for destabilization and control: population control and race-based conflict. It’s a virtue-signaling dog whistle to the climate cult wrapped in a Critical Race Theory context.”

Notably, the OU paper concedes that there are questions about the reliability of the paper’s weather-event projections based on climate-change theory.

“Since climate models inevitably bear large uncertainties due to internal variabilities, model initialization, and numerical solutions, the projected rainfall changes and its propagated uncertainties to surface hydrology are likely to be affected,” the OU researchers admit.

In addition, exposure to projected future weather events is heavily impacted by where one lives, regardless of racial background.

The paper notes that a “moderate increase” in flash-flood risk can have “profound socioeconomic impacts on Indigenous communities, especially for those who reside along rivers …”

And the researchers project future weather events may be most severe in parts of Oklahoma that do not lie within historic reservation areas.

“Regions with above-normal increases in flashiness are located along the Canadian River, where we expect to experience higher flood peaks and shorter flood peaking times,” the paper states. “It poses threats to Oklahoma City, north of the Canadian River, bearing greater flash flood risks.” [The Canadian River is pictured above.]

Lyman Stone, a research fellow at the Institute for Family Studies and an adjunct fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, is among those who believe climate change is occurring and can have significant impact in the future.

But he also said it is “important to be clear about the issue here: differential impact on Native Americans is a tragedy, but is not caused by population growth, among Native Americans or others.”

“Activists and researchers who uncarefully suppose a link between population growth and climate change are promoting unhelpful pseudoscience, and indeed the real relationship runs the other way: countries that cracked down on birth rates 50 years ago had astronomically faster emissions growth until the present than countries with less anti-natal fertility policies,” Stone said. “Most emissions growth in poor countries is not shaped by their population growth, but by the pace of foreign investment driving industrialization, and by the particular fuel and energy mixes they adopt.”

He said that’s one reason the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change “does not recommend any population-focused strategies for combating climate change.”

The OU study declares that citizens of Native American descent “are the most vulnerable community in Oklahoma” to projected future climate change, but also states that “certain communities within the U.S., including but not limited to Black communities, have been observed and will be likely to experience higher flood risks from climate change compared to national averages” and that similar patterns “were observed within some Hispanic communities in Texas during Hurricane Harvey.”

The OU researchers declared that race-based vulnerability to projected future climate changes among Oklahomans is “in a decreasing order: Native American>Hispanic>African>Asian>White.”

Hong is one of nine authors of the study. Seven of the other eight authors are OU officials, including Tiantian Yang, an assistant professor in the School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science at the University of Oklahoma, and Farina King, an assistant professor who is the Horizon Endowed Chair of Native American Ecology and Culture at the University of Oklahoma.

The other OU-affiliated authors—Zhi Li, Theresa Tsoodle, Mengye Chen, Shang Gao, and Jiaqi Zhang—all appear to be graduate students in OU’s School of Civil Engineering and Environmental Science.

On its website, OU officials describe the university as “a beacon of diverse thinking and unbound exploration.”

The Wall Street Journal found that between 2002 and 2022, enrollment at OU increased 15 percent, but tuition increased by 36 percent even after adjusting for inflation. Once student fees were included, the combined rate of growth was even more dramatic and was the highest in the nation.

“At the University of Oklahoma, per-student tuition and fees rose 166%,” the Journal reported, “the most of any flagship.”

[For more stories about higher education in Oklahoma, visit AimHigherOK.com.]

Ray Carter Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter

Director, Center for Independent Journalism

Ray Carter is the director of OCPA’s Center for Independent Journalism. He has two decades of experience in journalism and communications. He previously served as senior Capitol reporter for The Journal Record, media director for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, and chief editorial writer at The Oklahoman. As a reporter for The Journal Record, Carter received 12 Carl Rogan Awards in four years—including awards for investigative reporting, general news reporting, feature writing, spot news reporting, business reporting, and sports reporting. While at The Oklahoman, he was the recipient of several awards, including first place in the editorial writing category of the Associated Press/Oklahoma News Executives Carl Rogan Memorial News Excellence Competition for an editorial on the history of racism in the Oklahoma legislature.

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