What of those in less moderate climates though? What of those who live in less advanced conditions and lack the wealth to successfully weather even a few bad seasons.
Northern peoples like the Inuit report seeing wildlife they have never seen before. Animals that have not ventured so far north within even the traditional histories passed down from generation to generation are appearing in the north even as animals that are native to the area are disappearing.
Weather and ice conditions have made it difficult for them to travel traditional routes or even to navigate during hunting and fishing trips. The ice goes out earlier and comes in later making any attempt at a traditional lifestyle difficult and threatening the fauna that make such ways of survival even possible.
It is not just the people of the far north that are threatened. Some island nations face the complete loss of their countries. They will become, as flood waters rise, environmental refugees. The reality of global warming is a very real thing for the residents of nations like Tuvalu, a nation of 10,000 people living on nine atolls in the South Pacific. A few inches rise in sea level will literally drown their nation. They’ve asked for help, first in trying to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming, second by trying to reach agreements that would allow the Tuvalu people to emigrate when that becomes necessary.
The attempts to get other nations to reduce greenhouse emissions fell upon deaf ears. In 2002 the government of Tuvalu began working to enlist other nations to consider a lawsuit against the US, the world’s largest producer of greenhouse gasses, and Australia, the world’s worst per capita producer of greenhouse emissions.
The lawsuit singled out the US and Australia because they refused to ratify the Kyoto accord. Despite the overwhelming scientific support for global warming both President Bush and Prime Minister Howard reject the Kyoto Accord or mankind’s part in global warming. Their reasons have to do largely with the perceived economic impact that reducing emissions would have on the US and Australia.
New Zealand reached an agreement with Tuvalu to accept immigrants. Presently about 75 Tuvaluans are being relocated to New Zealand every year, but there are problems with the agreement. New Zealand has been turning down some of the Tuvaluan’s as being unsuitable for immigration to New Zealand.
At least New Zealand signed an agreement accepting what amount to environmental refugees from Tuvalu. Australia has been reluctant to work on any sort of immigration plan with the government of Tuvalu. In 2002 Australian Immigration minister was quoted as saying, ”Why would I agree with that? I think it is on a 30, 40 or 50-year horizon, if it’s going to occur at all,” when asked about the Tuvaluans’ wishes to develop a plan.
Tuvalu isn’t the only place facing devastation because of the actions of the rich developed nations. There are many other nations that will be brutally harmed as severe weather becomes more and more common with global warming. Africa faces increased drought in south and central regions while some of its coastal regions are affected by rising sea levels.
North America is also affected. Already native communities in Canada’s north are seeing the effects of global warming. The ice comes in earlier and goes out later. Northern people have reported trouble navigating safely because the ice has become unpredictable and the landmarks they traditionally use have shifted or disappeared. Some northern communities are having to move their houses on a regular basis because the permafrost is melting and there is no longer a solid base for the houses to sit on. In the near future whole communities will be forced to relocate.
The polar bear, which many consider an indicator species, is already suffering serious challenges with the ice pack in Hudson Bay melting as much as three weeks earlier. The shorter season means less time for the bears to hunt seals. Scientists have documented a 15 percent drop in polar bear birth rates.
The polar bear is also subject to toxins within the food chain. Living mostly on seals hunted on the ice pack leaves the bears open to toxins that are sent up the food chain and become concentrated in the fat of seals. Much of the snow and fresh water is also contaminated with pollutants that have travelled north with currents and weather systems. As the northern environment becomes more polluted, the problem increases.
Polar bears are not people of course, but as a top predator and consumer of seals they do occupy a similar place in the ecosystem. Human hunters are also dependent on the ice. Human beings are also affected by toxins in the food they eat. “Country food” refers to food gathered from natural sources. Northern animals have high concentrations of fat to protect them from the extreme cold, but that fat is also a place where contaminants like heavy metals and PCBs concentrate and are passed up the food chain, ultimately ending up in the bodies of those that depend on country food to meet their nutritional needs.
The contaminants are not local, for the most part. Some do come from the limited local industry and some heavy metals and radiation do come from old DEW line stations, but even these are imported and the local people gain little from the pollution of their environment. The majority of contaminants come on the winds and tides though. These contaminants come from the southern parts of North America and industrialised northern Europe for the most part. Concentrations of herbicides and pesticides commonly used in India are found in the inhabitants of Canada’s north.
Tuvalu and Canada’s north are just two examples of the devastation that the lack of environmental consideration has had on people all over the world. Things will get be getting worse in the near future. The warming of the planet will help spread diseases like malaria and Dengue fever to areas they never previously existed. Severe weather will bring more and more disasters. Warming oceans will lead to even more depleted fish stocks and droughts and flooding will lead to food shortages caused by an actual shortage of food instead of an unwillingness to distribute the food we have.
The wealthy countries of the north and west, or the wealthy portions of those countries, will be protected from the worst of these effects, at least in the short run, by their wealth and accidents of geography. The wealthiest of these nations are still putting local short-term economic concerns before the impact ecological and economic, that the long term effects of global warming and industrial pollution are bound to have. We are also encouraging developing nations to follow in our footsteps.
We should be cleaning up our own act and developing clean technologies not just for our own use, but for use of developing nations as they industrialise. We should be developing plans to deal with the coming tide of environmental refugees. Instead we continue to pollute our own planet and pretend that temporary riches make it worthwhile.
We are already in possession of many of the technologies needed to start reducing the harm that we do. We have, for a very long time, been in possession of the knowledge that we are doing is harming ourselves and others. At this point there is no reason except for greed that we do not move as quickly as possible towards environmentally friendly solutions.
By: Reverand Blair