Saturday, March 20, 2010

Climate change problems hit Native Americans close to home

James Steele in the Billings Gazette (Montana): The history of American Indians is varied and each tribe has its own customs, but one belief that binds us all is our deep respect for the Earth and the gifts it has given us. This belief has inspired the Salish and Kootenai people’s effort to protect our air, water and other natural resources for future generations. We now recognize that one environmental threat poses a challenge like no other: global climate change.

It was with these thoughts in mind that I journeyed to Copenhagen, Denmark, in December to represent the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes at the international climate-change conference. It was apparent in Copenhagen that the whole world awaits action from the country most responsible for carbon pollution: the United States. The U.S. needs to lead the world by passing strong, comprehensive clean-energy and climate legislation through Congress.

And we need to do this now because Montana is already impacted by global climate change. Research by University of Montana Nobel Laureate Dr. Steve Running shows our mountain snowpack is melting an average of three weeks earlier in the spring. Reduced snowpack means lower and warmer stream flows in midsummer, which threatens our native fish as well as agricultural users of water. On the Flathead reservation, where we obtain most of our own energy from hydropower, less water also threatens our ability to generate electricity for our citizens and businesses.

Global warming threatens Native people disproportionately. A 2007 report from the University of Colorado indicates that global warming is likely to hit American Indians especially hard, as rising seas flood Native lands in Florida, and droughts trigger water wars in the Southwest. In Alaska, global climate change is already eroding the permafrost and melting the sea ice, leaving costal towns – largely inhabited by Natives – increasingly vulnerable to storm surges….

Southern side of the AJX Bridge over South Fork and Powder River, which carries a service road for Interstate 25 (the former U.S. Route 87 roadbed) over the South Fork of the Powder River near Kaycee in Johnson County, Wyoming, United States. Built in 1931, this Pratt deck truss bridge is the only large cantilevered bridge in the state. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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