Skip to main content

National Geographic sounds alarm on global warming

  • Author:
  • Updated:
    Original:

Even for the editor of the prestigious National Geographic Magazine, it was
an act of daring. No matter that a mammoth amount of scientific research
clearly documents the reality of global warming and its impact on climate,
National Geographic Editor Bill Allen knew he was risking something by
publishing stories on a subject about which, he writes, "some readers get
mad ... we'll get letters ... some will even terminate their memberships."

Unquestionably one of the world's largest and most respected research
institutions, the National Geographic Society takes its scientific
documentation seriously. National Geographic prides itself on the finely
detailed vetting process it demands of every paragraph it publishes in its
magazine. And when a fact is wrong they provide acknowledgment.

After weighing the scientific evidence of discernable climate trends,
National Geographic delivers a calm and considered 74-page perspective that
should be a wake up call to anyone planning to leave children in this
world. "This isn't science fiction or a Hollywood movie," wrote Allen. "We
are going to take you all over the world and show you the hard truth as
scientists see it."

The scientific truth is very troublesome. "From Alaska to the Andes the
world is heating up right now, and fast."

Perennial Arctic ice is retreating at the rate of 9 percent per decade. Of
course, the stunning National Geographic photography of this trend is as
clear as truth can be. The polar ice cap is indeed melting, and fast,
predictably it will be gone during summers by the end of this century.

To quote National Geographic:

"The climate is changing at an unnerving pace. Glaciers are retreating ...
sea level is rising, permafrost is melting.

"The atmosphere's level of carbon dioxide now is higher than it has been
for hundreds of thousands of years."

These are not "projections, these are facts on the ground," according to
National Geographic.

We, at Indian Country Today, have addressed the issue loudly and repeatedly
in these pages. Additionally, a superb special edition of Native Americas
Journal, published by First Nations Development Institute, documented the
impacts of global warming and climate change on tribal lands. Native
Americas presented observational and anecdotal information from tribal
leaders in the arctic regions of North America who were sounding a warning
siren six years ago. That special Native Americas issue should be required
reading for every parent in the world.

Likewise, Indian Country Today's editorial coverage comes to us directly in
the testimony of Inuit hunters and fishing people, who stand aghast as they
witness their world of snow and ice and particular species and age-old
indigenous lifeways dissipate. The impact of global warming on northern
lands, scientists say, provides an early warning system. So do the changes
in other regions: In 1998, a record hot year, 16 percent of the world's
coral went dead or bleached, affected by the heat.

The bad news goes on and on. Animal migration patterns, river flows and
lake volumes, the interrelationship of many species, built on patterns over
millennia, are now changing in the course of decades.

Indian Country Today's editors send our heartfelt congratulations to Editor
Allen for his courage. Courage, you say? Yes, courage. Unbelievable as it
sounds, it takes courage, even for the editor of the most powerful
scientific magazine in the world, to go against the anti-scientific
ideological madness that these days passes media standards.

Global warming should not be a controversial subject. But global warming
has been made to be a controversial subject. It is a dictum of the
talk-show crowd, led as always by Rush Limbaugh, that global warming is
simply propaganda by environmentalist "wackos" whose only intention is to
sabotage the American way of life. A few scientists, largely on the
payrolls or granting ledgers of oil and gas companies, give Limbaugh and
his ilk enough ammunition to jump headfirst into the comfortable darkness
of warm sand. Thus, a great many pundits - mostly identifiable with the
fundamentalist rightwing core - consistently and virulently denounce any
notion of global warming and climate change. These folks treat the problem
as a political issue rather than the global crisis it portends. Science be
damned, they seem to shout. They drive an audience of millions, from which
they can get thousands at times to protest and denounce any editor or
politician who dare stand up to the ignorance of their position. This
ideologically-driven denial constitutes one of the most heinous lies of our
time: political spin-masters have managed to obfuscate and thus contribute
to the biggest survival threat facing our future generations.

The reality is an overwhelming number of scientists, the world's most
established figures among them, fully support the factual basis of the
problem. While a number of natural factors contribute to the warming trend,
most scientists endorse the idea that human activity is the main cause of
the problem. National Geographic: "Over the past 150 years, the amount of
Greenhouse gases [carbon dioxide and methane] has increased enormously in
the Earth's atmosphere, trapping more heat and causing temperatures to
rise."

While the Earth is on average one degree warmer than last century, in the
Arctic a much more extreme change of nearly 5 degrees Fahrenheit has
occurred as a result of the Greenhouse gases. (With loss of snow and ice
cover, terrain stops reflecting sunshine and starts absorbing heat.)

Among many other people, including Pacific islanders who are seeing their
islands threatened by rising sea waters, the indigenous members of the
Arctic Council, which include the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Aleut
International Association, the Gwich'in Council International, the Russian
Association of Indigenous Peoples, the Arctic Athabaskan Council and the
Saami Council, have called for more intense action on climate change. They
accuse the Bush administration of "misrepresenting" the science of global
warming in order to justify its inaction on the issue.

The Arctic Council has produced a 1,400-page Arctic Climate Impact
Assessment with findings from 250 experts, which it will release in early
November. From all indications, its findings are completely consistent with
the National Geographic report.

We salute anyone working honestly on the global warming/climate change
issue, both the science of it and on generating the political will to
tackle the problem. Kudos to Bill Allen and the National Geographic Society
for holding up the truth.