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Steve Russell: The Indian view on climate change
Friday, May 30, 2008
Filed Under: Opinion

"Years before Al Gore's ''An Inconvenient Truth,'' the Internet sounded the alarm for those of us who talk to Inuit or Athabascan Indians. Animals, they said, were turning up in the wrong places or at the wrong times, or failing to turn up at all. For people who still practice subsistence hunting, such things are hard not to notice. Buildings situated on the permafrost were turning out not to be so perma.

I took the remarks about the animals seriously. My grandmother used to say that the chickens were better fixed to warn us of an approaching tornado than the weathermen on the Tulsa TV stations; and while I no longer keep chickens, I do think she had a point. Animals seem to know a lot more about the weather than most modern human beings are equipped to learn from them.

It was only after Gore that I learned a 1-degree rise in temperature at the equator could translate into 12 degrees in the polar regions, and that the Earth moves heat to the poles on currents of air and water just as the Earth ''breathes.'' When the Northern Hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, exposing most forests, the globe sucks in carbon dioxide, letting it out when the Southern Hemisphere is exposed. So the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere goes up and down with the seasons, but the ''down'' has been a little higher every year measurements have been taken.

Gore tells us there are three sticking points in talking to people about global warming. (1) It doesn't exist. (2) It exists but it is not caused by human beings, but is rather part of a natural cycle. (3) It exists and is caused by human beings, but the problem is so huge we really can't do anything about it.

Most Indians, I quickly discovered, breeze right past (1) and (2). They have already noticed that for some years now the weather has been out of whack. They have blood memories of major ecological catastrophes caused by the settlers long before the term ''ecological'' was coined. The Kiowa know that human beings caused the buffalo to go away. Indians in the Pacific Northwest have been missing the salmon, and they understand it's not because the salmon just decided to leave."

Get the Story:
Steve Russell: Animal insanity (Indian Country Today 5/30)

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