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Old 03-28-2005, 04:45 AM   #1
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Mohawk: Climate Change In America

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Mohawk: Climate Change In America

Posted: March 25, 2005
by: John Mohawk / Indian Country Today

Two categorical positions about climate change dominate conversations around
the world. The first argues that the scientific community is in broad
agreement that all the signs support the conclusion that the earth is growing warmer;
that the reason it is growing warmer involves human activity, especially
greenhouse gases caused by burning fossil fuels; and that the results could be

The second point of view, broadly speaking, holds that there is no global
warming which is inconsistent with nature's own fluctuation in global
temperatures, that if there is global warming it has not been adequately proven to be the
result of human activity, and/or that the warnings about catastrophe are
insufficiently supported by fact.

No serious group or individual can ignore the reality or inevitability of
climate change. The history of planet Earth is one of recurring climate changes,
including ice ages and, at one time, enough global cooling to engulf the whole
planet in ice and snow. And no serious person can deny the role of greenhouse
gases in changing Earth's temperatures. It was almost certainly such gases
from volcanoes that freed the earth from the ice.

The reason for the debate's intensity is the expense of taking action against
greenhouse gas production. The world community's most visible effort to
address the problem is an agreement called the Kyoto Protocol, passed in December
1997. The Protocol, which has been rejected by the Bush administration, went
into effect Feb. 16. Proponents of Kyoto cite the growing probability of
devastating impacts.

The warnings are explicit in numerous publications, but two provide a good
preview: ''Honesty About Dangerous Climate Change'' by Paul Baer and Tom
Athanasiou, found on the EcoEquity Web site; and ''On the Risk to Overshoot 2 Degrees
C'' by Malte Meinshausen, listed at Scientific Symposium ''Avoiding Dangerous
Climate Change,'' (Exeter, MetOffice, United Kingdom, Feb. 2). A Feb. 25
article at Asia Times Online lists these and other citations of studies which have
energized the international community to action to urge governments to try to
slow the release of greenhouse gases.

The most dire warnings are that a ''tipping'' point could be reached beyond
which it will not be possible to reverse changes which will stimulate
widespread changes in weather patterns, sea levels and who-knows-what.

Because of the current cultural dynamic in American journalism, news media
seek second opinions on such issues without investigating the motives of the
sources. When a report on global warming is released, a variety of ''think-tank''
representatives - advocates of an ideology which refuses to accept or is paid
to reject such conclusions - expresses the view that the scientific
conclusions are either ''bad science'' or based on insufficient studies.

The most convincing rebuttal of these ideologues is contained in an article
by a University of California professor that appeared in the
internationally-respected journal Science in December 2004. She found that all 928 peer-reviewed
climate studies from 1993 - 2003 agreed with a generally-accepted scientific
consensus. Not a single scientific study disagreed.

The so-called controversy about science and climate change has some of the
elements of the current issues that surround evolution. The scientific community
accepts that the overwhelming evidence in rock fossils and the study of
species, while people with an ideological agenda continue to insist evolution is
merely theory, mostly because it conflicts with their beliefs in Scripture.

Advancing science around this topic has been moving rapidly. As recently as
March, the Clean Air: Cool Planet (CAAP) and the Climate Change Research Center
at the University of New Hampshire pinpointed changes to the region's climate
in their report, ''Indicators of Climate Change in the Northeast.'' A broad
range of indicators, including decreases in snowfall, a decrease of 16 days of
snow cover over the past 30 years, ice-out dates on lakes earlier by 9 - 16
days in the Northeast and earlier spring bloom dates of 4 - 8 days add up to
hard evidence of the increasing impacts of global warming. On the same day, Penn
State glaciologist Richard B. Alley issued a statement that spring snows in
the Arctic have decreased and that sea ice is smaller and thinner: all signs of
continuing warming.

The Climate Change group released photographs March 15 showing that the ice
atop Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa is melting and could disappear completely by
2020. The change could signal significant disruptions to ecosystems on the
plains below. That same day, UK spokesman Gordon Brown stated at a G8 meeting:
''We have sufficient evidence that human-made climate change is the most
far-reaching and almost certainly the most threatening of all the environmental
challenges facing us.''

He urged that a list of problems ranging from soil erosion to the depletion
of marine stocks will continue to threaten future economic activity. Wealthy
nations have caused these problems, he said, and they should fix them.

U.S. delegate James Connaughton told the BBC that the science was still
contested. The populated areas of Europe, which lie further north than the
populated areas of North America and could experience dramatic climate changes, have
led the efforts to reverse course. Almost all observers agree that the Kyoto
Protocol is flawed and that as currently constituted, is not an answer to
greenhouse gas emissions; but the U.S. refusal to play a role in planning for
reductions has helped alienate and isolate America from the rest of the world.

Traditional indigenous people, most notably the Hopi and the Haudenosaunee
(or Iroquois), have long warned about a possible backlash at the hands of nature
that could include dramatic climate events. And indigenous people, especially
in the Arctic, have been among the first to demand that industrialized
nations do something to meet the threat. They have even launched lawsuits claiming
that inaction amounts to genocide of a sort. If polar bears could sue, they'd
undoubtedly make the same claim. Some scientists, and indigenous people, think
warming could place the polar bear in danger of extinction.

The debate over global warming highlights an unexpected phenomenon in U.S.
culture. The U.S., an enthusiastic participant in the 18th century intellectual
movement known as the enlightenment, seems poised to turn its back on the
method of skeptical inquiry into patterns of fact and revert to old ways which
sought answers to all questions in Scripture.

Some Indian prophecies predict very difficult times, but not an end to all
life. Contemporary American culture, especially its political culture, is
influenced by expectations of a biblical end-time, a ''second coming'' and the end
of nature. Who would have thought a time would come when the Indian prophets
and the scientists would be on one side, and the end-of-nature crowd would
direct environmental policy from Washington?

John C. Mohawk Ph.D., columnist for Indian Country Today, is an author and
professor in the Center for the Americas at the State University of New York at
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