Adapt to Climate Change, Now


Mother Earth is in for a destructive ride into the future, according to the full report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released this week called "Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation," or SREX for short. Tribal nations and Indigenous Peoples, who generate fewer greenhouse emissions than any other group, could be among communities hit the hardest.

After 220 scientists from 62 countries finalized the report in Uganda last fall, the IPCC published a 19-page Summary to give policy makers tools ahead of the COP18 in Qatar this November to shape adaptation strategies to extreme weather events. A three-page fact sheet makes the technical report even easier to digest.

And digest you should.

IPCC scientists give compelling evidence to confirm a connection between climate change and extremes such as heat waves, record high temperatures and, in many regions, heavy precipitation.

“Extreme weather events can be very destructive for Tribes, many of whom are already suffering from lack of resources to begin with,” says Dr. Garrit Voggesser, national director of the National Wildlife Federation Tribal Partnerships program, and author of the Facing the Storm report. Heat waves and droughts can exacerbate plant and wildlife mortality, heighten the risk of wildfires and habitat loss, and compromise tribal lands.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reports that an unprecedented 14 weather and climate disasters made 2011 a year for the record books. One of those disasters left much of the Crow Nation in southeastern Montana under water last May. Damages and costs have also increased in recent decades.

Voggesser says power disruptions from storms, long dry spells and heavy floods can be difficult to recover from, especially for people who live close to the land and have limited economic resources.

“One thing that we have learned from past extreme events, such as major floods, here in the Pacific Northwest is that even if there is a small chance of such an event occurring, the impact on our communities can be disastrous,” says Seattle-based NWF scientist and climate researcher Dr. Patty Glick. “This new IPCC report really underscores the importance of heeding precaution and being prepared, especially in anticipation of even greater risks in an era of climate change.”

In South Dakota, the Lakota face the wrath of even harsher winters. A report from Colorado State University says temperature and precipitation will intensify over the entire Great Plains area. A news report from the New York Times says Lake Superior, upon which the Great Lakes tribes depend for food resources, “is running a fever.” The Southwest faces increased drought and climate Dust Bowl conditions with serious health implications for its peoples. Sea levels on all coasts in the U.S. and North America are predicted to rise and in some cases the rise will be catastrophic. Permafrost melting under villages in Alaska is tumbling their inhabitants into the ocean.

The Swinomish Indian Tribe in Washington State, after seeing from an earth-based view the serious disruptions already taking place initiated a scientific study that resulted in their 2008 “Swinomish Climate Change Initiative,” making them the first tribal community to be adaptation-, mitigation-, and resilient-ready.

“The Indian Nations face profound challenges to their cultures, economies and livelihoods, because of climate change,” says Voggesser. "Yet tribal peoples possess valuable knowledge and practices of their ecosystems that are resilient and cost-effective methods to address climate change impacts, for the benefit of all peoples. This study is a clear call for the Administration, Congress, state and local governments, and all peoples, to support and join tribal efforts to stem climate change.”