Beginning about 70 years ago, some traditional Hopi formulated a message to
the rest of the world that there was a rising danger that humankind's lack
of spiritual attention to the world was going to lead to disaster. The form
this disaster would take was that there would be violent storms and all
kinds of disruption that would eventually threaten human beings around the
world. It had happened before, they said, and all signs, including ancient
prophecies, are that it will happen again. The individual who emerged as
spokesperson for this was Thomas Banyacya. A very interesting element to
the message was that proof of their message was to be found in the
American's own libraries and scientific papers.
There is every evidence that this is happening, just as the traditional
Hopi predicted, and the major leadership of the world is not acting in an
effective way to meet the threat. This August, the Bush administration
finally issued a statement acknowledging that human activity may be
contributing to global warming. If you think that radical Islamic terrorism
is scary, wait until you see global warming.
Scientists are certain that greenhouse gasses, especially CO2, have a
history of altering global climate patterns, a history that goes back
perhaps at least 900 million years. A dramatic but widely-held theory is
that 600 million years ago the earth was an ice ball trapped in a glacial
period and that it escaped this seemingly permanent condition when
volcanoes released enough CO2 into the atmosphere to create a greenhouse
effect which warmed things up to perhaps an average temperature of 120 F,
causing hundreds of thousands of years of rain which trapped the CO2 and
put it back in the earth. Eventually the earth stabilized. That was when
the dramatic proliferation of life forms, including multi-cellular animals,
appeared. There is pretty good evidence to support this theory. The ice may
have been a kilometer thick. Greenhouse gases do cause climate change.
The earth is getting warmer and its average temperature has risen about one
degree Fahrenheit since 1830 - at the beginning of the Industrial
Revolution. The last 20 years have been the warmest in 12,000 years and the
warming trend is worldwide. People who study tree rings find evidence that
in the last 20 years there has been an unprecedented rate of change in the
climate and among the best evidence for the effect of this change is that
glaciers, worldwide, are receding and disappearing. There are glaciers in
the Central Andes. Even there, glaciers have been retreating dramatically.
Some are retreating at the rate of almost 100 feet per year. They could be
gone entirely in 50 years. Forty percent of the ice has disappeared in some
places. In others, numerous glaciers have already disappeared. For
thousands of years, glaciers have maintained a record of what has happened
over the centuries. Scientists collect ice cores from the tropics and the
polar regions. They contain the history of climate going back to a half
million years. Ice cores record that CO2 never got higher than 300 parts
per million. Today, we find 360 ppm, strong (even irrefutable) evidence
that humans are contributing to dramatic changes in the composition of the
atmosphere. Scientists suspect there is a threshold beyond which dramatic
and irreversible and unpredictable climate change could be triggered.
The impact of the climate change we have already can be seen in Alaska. In
just 30 years, Alaska's temperature has risen an average of five degrees
and glaciers there are melting. Since 1995 some have receded 10 to 20 feet
a year. And the rate of change may be accelerating. Climatologists are
alarmed. In 50 years there may be no glaciers in Glacier National Park.
Fossil fuels are changing the chemistry of the atmosphere. It is the
northern areas that will experience this warming first. In Alaska, the
first thing is the melting of the permafrost. This thawing could spread in
just five years. Already telephone poles are leaning and the ground is
opening up in places, leaving holes in the land. The Alaska pipeline was
built on the permafrost, but there was no planning for the possibility the
permafrost might melt and the pipeline is threatened.
But the most devastating short-term impact may be from the unexpected.
There are 120 million acres of forest in Alaska, and these forests are
beginning to die on millions of acres. The destruction has been rapid and
devastating and trees on three million acres have already been killed by
insect infestation. Some species which threaten forests thrive in warmer
weather, like the spruce bark beetle, which eats the bark. These beetles
arrived with the onset of warmer weather and in some places there are so
many beetles that people have been forced to abandoned their homes and
cabins. In southern Alaska, more trees have died in a few years than in the
previous 70 years.
In East Africa it rained excessively in traditionally arid lands and this
led to extensive flooding which overwhelmed the water management systems.
One result was a cholera epidemic from contaminated water. The mosquito
population exploded and a malaria epidemic ensued in places in Kenya where
mosquitoes were previously rare or unknown. People blamed El Nino, but
global warming probably had a hand in the disasters. The problems didn't
end there. As the earth heats up, the land dries up. Moisture is released
through evaporation into the atmosphere, making it available for weather
events. Thus there is flooding, record rainfalls and sometimes storms
stronger than previously. While one place is experiencing flooding, other
places experience drought. California is flooded, while Indonesia
experiences drought. It is just like the Hopi warned.
The natural climate system can change rapidly. If it happened rapidly in
the past, it could happen in the future. Temperature records are being
broken. It seems inevitable that we will reach four times the CO2 levels in
the atmosphere from a century ago and maybe soon. Of all the emissions sent
up today, fully half will still be in the atmosphere 100 years from now. By
the time we can prove beyond a doubt that human activity is causing the
warming, it will be far too late to do anything about it. American
politicians, who compete among themselves selling visions of wishful
thinking from everything from the economy to terrorism have not performed
well in facing this threat. Earlier this year a movie, "The Day After
Tomorrow", dramatized (and action-adventurized) sudden global freezing (an
after effect of warming), but even if the climate changes are much less
dramatic than depicted in this movie, the question arises: what about the
day after the day after tomorrow? The U.S. government does see climate
change as a national security threat, but it's actually much greater than
that. It is a threat to species survival. Ours, and many others.
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 Buffalo.