Rising temperatures globally are testing the physical limits of human beings. In France alone, this summer, some 5,000 deaths are reported from a killer heat wave that engulfed large regions of Europe in July and August. While family negligence over care of elders contributed to some of the deaths, stress of more than 30 days of unprecedented heat was the actual cause and the crisis forced the resignation of the country's highest health official.
It makes us wonder which will kill more, ultimately, terrorism and war, or a world climate gone haywire, a result of our outdated and obtuse dependence on burning coal and oil to power our world.
Nero fiddled while Rome burned and we believe much of American leadership is certainly not paying attention as a massive consensus of the world's climatologists continue to agree on the fact of humankind's impact on the world's rising temperatures. The vast majority of those scientists are calling for strict action and most of the countries of the world agree. The United States leadership, however, seemingly driven by ideology rather than compounding scientific assessment, ignores the growing.
We have stated before that the world needs America to lead for peace. It goes beyond that. When America stands for problem solving, for hope, it leads naturally and the peoples of the world respond to its call. All too often, however, the message from America is one of apparent disregard for the misery of others. Military talk of overwhelming force and superpower mentalities has not been entirely inspiring nor convincing anywhere. Checkered enforcement of global trade policy reveals discriminatory attitudes.
We will state it out flat: the much-vaunted American "lifestyle" is unhealthy for the world, and for the peoples of the world. It is one thing to have enough, and to inspire the country's population to enjoy the comforts and even luxuries of life. But the wanton waste of energy, food and so many material goods in the U.S. is shamefully obvious while deplorable conditions of misery engulf the world.
For the Inuit, as for the French and other European elderly who succumbed to the heat wave, the climate is certainly changing and the change is completely destructive. The Inuit's world and beloved "lifestyle," including an understanding and cultural appreciation for the natural world around them, is disappearing. Unprecedented heat is bringing early melts, strange insect and animal migrations that beget many losses, freezing rain with thunderstorms in the middle of winter and the increasing loss of permafrost.
Current reports from Iqaluit, a Baffin Island community on the edge of the Arctic Circle, describe an unheard of situation this season - strings of days with temperatures consistently 25 degrees hotter than usual. Whole Inuit villages report being washed away as the ocean ice turns to mush. The world as the Inuit have known it is disappearing, melting before their eyes. Seal pups drown to death by the dozens in the spring as the ice platform they require to mature upon melts prematurely by several weeks and before the seal pups can learn to swim. Polar bears are going hungry for lack of available seals and attacks on humans grow more frequent. According to the Ottawa Citizen, on Bathurst Island in the High Arctic, a herd of 3,000 Peary caribou has been virtually wiped out since 1993, reduced to less than 75 animals. Freezing rains trapped most available vegetation under impenetrable ice, progressively starving the herd over four years.
Global warming and climate change has been a reality for the Inuit for nearly a decade, while scientific agreement is more available on the question than on most environmental issues. A special edition of Native Americas journal devoted to the problem almost four years ago (Fall/Winter 1999) analyzed the inane assertion of disbelief by U.S. policy makers. The sign of global warming was so palpable in the Arctic and the scientific consensus around the world so widespread, the journal investigated the source of the paralysis. A classic article by Purepecha writer Alex Ewen is still highly recommended. Ewen dissected the source of the contention and the doubt-casters on this life-and-death question. As always, they feed from one another in sustaining a very much "minority" point of view. They are quotable and make clever arguments and talk show America never tires of expounding and projecting these tiny and very compromised scientific voices into loud policy stakeholders. The major news channels have largely followed along.
So far, President Bush has decided to fiddle while the arctic melts. His administration's continued recalcitrance on this issue has set the world back now for two and a half years. Deaths of overheated elderly in France are not likely to motivate him either. While terrorism and the growing dilemma that is Iraq create security risks and need definitive attention, the road to leadership on the even bigger threat of global warming and climate change also calls for dramatic urgency. This one is a unifier that equalizes everybody in its global proportion, Native and non-Native, Christian and Muslim, Jew and gentile, black, white, brown or beige, and involves the future of all generations.
From France to the Arctic Circle to the America's northeastern region with its failing power grid, the use of fossil fuels and its impact on global ecosystems has very serious implications for the future of humankind. Beyond war and the age-old reality of hateful groupings of humans killing each other, it is the grandest of concerns for American Indian elders and to anyone truly paying attention. The world awaits a true statesman yet of the 21st century - one with the courage to focus and act upon this important global issue.