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Mohawk: Climate Change In America

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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
    Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear... just sing, sing a song.sigpic

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