An Arctic account

An Arctic account DECREASED sea ice extent and thickness, an early onset of spring and an influx of insects and other animals from the south are some of the changes which Alaska natives have identified in personal testimonies on the impact of climate change, compiled by a Greenpeace report.

While July, 1998, was the hottest month since records began to be kept a century ago, and this year was the hottest in a millennium, the Western Arctic is warming at a rate approximately three to five times the global average. Natives of Alaska and climate scientists agree that the Arctic is already experiencing the impacts of global warming.

Traditional activities, such as hunting, fishing and gathering plants, are crucial to the Aiaskan way of life. "Even subtle changes in temperature over the long term can affect our ability to live as our parents and grandparents did. We need a healthy environment to preserve our traditional values, culture and spirituality," says Art Ivanoff, chairperson of the non-profit organisation Arctic Network, and resident of Unalakleet.

Aiaskan joined Greenpeace and Arctic Network to release the report, "Answers from the Ice Edge", the product of a two-year testimonies project that relies heavily upon traditional knowledge - a foundation that includes thousands of years of observation and living on the land. The report then compares this record with Western science, such as the findings of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change.

"The result of this testimonies project is a startling clear convergence between the Western, peer-reviewed science of climate change and the traditional knowledge of Aiaskan natives in the report," says Kalee Kreider, us director of Greenpeace's Global Warming Campaign.

People from the Bering and Chukchi Sea villages of Savoonga, Gambell, Wales, Deering, Kotzebue, Point Lay and Wainwright participated in the first-ever documentation of testi-monies from Arctic people about the impacts of global warming on their families, communities and way of life.

"The speakers today put a human face to the science of global warming," said Kreider. The report documents a host of observed changes in Arctic communities. According to John Kulowiyi, a senior citizen and a whaling captain who lives in Savoonga, "When I was younger, we used to go out on the ice. It was real solid. But as the years go by, the ice is getting thinner and thinner."

"Greenpeace understands and recognises that traditional food gathering activities are a vital part of the lives the Aiaskan natives," said Kreider, "and the more oil we burn, the more global warming threatens Arctic communities. That's not a trade-off we are prepared to accept."

"Despite all of the evidence of global warming and its impact on Alaska and other parts of the world, the Clinton administration decided recently to open a huge swath of Aiaskan wilderness known as the National Petroleum Reserve to a new oil development programme," said Kreider.

Meanwhile, the political debate on global warming is spilling over to pulpits and pews as religious organisations speak out about morality, faith and the Kyoto Protocol. Major church groups in the us are mounting unusually active campaigns to persuade the Senate to approve the protocol, an international agreement to fight climate change that was negotiated in Japan in December, 1997. Many Protestant, Greek Orthodox and Jewish groups, including black churches and some evangelical leaders, have joined the campaign, although Roman Catholic bishops are still considering their stance on global warming and spme of the nation's more conservative Christian groups are not participating.

In a letter to President Bill Clinton and the Senators, 22 members of churches of National Council of Churches pledged to work for approval of the protocol, calling it "an important move towards protecting God's children and God's creation". The protocol calls for developed countries to make deep cuts in carbon emissions, mainly due to burning of fossil fuels. According to the agreement, the us will have to reduce the emission levels of 1990 by seven per cent in the next 10-15 years. The churches demanded that the us lead the way even without "meaningful participation" by the developing countries, a condition that the us has set for developed nations to cut down on emissions.

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