COLUMN: The harsh realities of global warming
Oklahomans are involved in the national debate over global warming. U.S. Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma, authored a book called “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” Inhofe has vociferously promoted the idea global warming is an elaborate scam and is not actually happening.
It is happening and you should be concerned about it.
He and many other politicians and citizens also guffaw at the idea human activities are to blame for affecting the climate. However, there are ecosystems and societies where the effects of climate change are clearly evident, in spite of Inhofe’s claims.
The Inupiat village located at Point Hope, Alaska, began to experience significant effects from global warming as far back as 1977 when the village had to be moved 2 miles to the southeast to keep it from being swallowed by the Chukchi Sea, according to Dr. Chie Sakakibara from the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability and the Native American Studies Program at the University of Oklahoma. Sakakibara spent time doing fieldwork in North Slope Borough whaling communities in 2005 and 2006. During her time there, Sakakibara studied the inaccessibility to whales due to unreliable sea ice conditions.
Other Native villages located within 200 miles of Point Hope and Barrow, Alaska began to succumb to the rising water levels and slide into the sea or else suffer the consequences of climate change in 2005 after centuries of existence in locations that are now underwater or threatened.
Inhofe may have the luxury of disbelieving the reality of global warming from the safety of his home, but the Indigenous people on the North Slope of Alaska have been living with the reality he denies for years.
The rising water levels for the Indigenous people of these areas are more than just an inconvenience. These ecosystems and cultures have endured everything from coastal erosion to the disappearance of tundra lakes and freshwater sources, the disappearance of whales and other food or subsistence sources, and the appearance of fish, insects, micro-organisms and diseases from warmer areas. Nesting grounds for migratory birds have also been vanishing. In short, food has gotten harder and harder to find for people and other living things.
The consensus of nearly the entire scientific community is the primary causes responsible for these warming trends are the burning of fossil fuels and release of millions of tons of carbon particulates into the atmosphere. This has created a layer that has a blanketing effect that prevents solar heat from radiating back out from the earth and into space. This phenomenon is further exacerbated by the chain reaction caused by ice and snow packs melting and releasing even more greenhouse gasses previously trapped within frozen air bubbles.
A majority of scientists studying the dynamic insist there is cause for great alarm. Inhofe refers to this insistence and trepidation as fear mongering.
Dr. Tom Woodfin, professor and director at the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Oklahoma, believes we have passed the tipping point for preventing major ecological catastrophe, but should nevertheless work diligently to find ways at mitigating the effects and finding ways to develop a more sustainable culture going forward.
One of the best ways to be part of the correction, prevention or solution to the situation of climate change is for citizens to educate themselves, support green initiatives that they feel are worthy or effective and to support only candidates who understand the urgency of the climate change situation and are serious about doing something to help rather than aggravate the situation.
Scott Starr is Native American studies senior