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Conference puts focus on global warming threat

MONTREAL -- Hundreds of international experts and leaders -- including many
from First Nations communities in Canada -- brought the urgency of a
changing climate to the attention of the world at the United Nations
Climate Change Conference in Montreal in early December. The 11-day
conference was a U.N. initiative to encourage preventive measures against
global warming.

Representatives from the Assembly of First Nations made up part of the
American Indian congregation at the conference, which included many Inuit
officials as well as men and women from various Native-geared
organizations.

The ambitions of those in attendance were unified. According to research
and predictions outlined and discussed at the convention, climate change is
real.

Introducing the conference, UNCCC organizers wrote, "The world's climate
has always varied naturally, but compelling evidence from around the world
indicated that a new kind of climate change is now under way, foreshadowing
drastic impacts on people, economies and ecosystems."

Those changes will influence First Nations communities -- particularly the
Inuit -- drastically.

"Because of global warming, indigenous communities are facing major
economic and cultural impacts," said the Honorable Stephane Dion, Minister
of the Environment. "Many indigenous peoples depend on hunting polar bear,
walrus, seals and caribou; herding reindeer; [and] fishing and gathering,
not only for food and to support the local economy, but also as the basis
for cultural and social identity."

Dion elaborated on the effects Arctic communities will see first-hand as
the northern glaciers melt.

"The reduction in sea ice will have serious consequences for polar bears,
ice-dependent seals and local people, for whom these animals are a primary
food source," he said. Furthermore, "Thawing ground will disrupt
transportation, buildings and other infrastructure."

Concerns, like those of the Inuit, were addressed both formally and
informally during the conference, held from Nov. 29 -- Dec. 9. In the lobby
of the conference's main headquarters, a group of young Canadians staged a
"bed-in" to imitate the late John Lennon, who staged environmental protests
from his hotel bed in Montreal in the 1970s. The young activists brought
their pillows and blankets, sprawled across the floor and sang Lennon songs
with the lyrics rewritten to express their hopes for the environment.

"Just as the Vietnam War was a defining issue for previous generations,
climate change is the issue that will define our generation," the group
said.

According to Rosa Kouri, who led the demonstration, "Governments need to
stop asking what this will cost them, and start asking what this will cost
us. This is no time to play politics; we are all in bed together."

On the political end of the conference, the United States was heavily
criticized by many in attendance for its reluctant approach to the Kyoto
Protocol. The Kyoto Protocol, born in 1997 during a climate conference,
seeks to encourage countries to regulate or monitor how their country is
contributing to climate change. President Bush has criticized the plan,
saying that cutting back on emissions -- part of the protocol's
requirements -- would harm the nation's economy.

More than 150 nations signed the protocol to further environmental
regulations after 2012, but the United States declined to sign. It did,
however, agree to take part in further dialogue.