Canary in a Cold Mine — the Inuit

For most Americans, Hurricane Katrina was the first big warning bell about global warming. Even now, although 58 percent of us are convinced that climate change as a result of global warming has begun, a recent Gallup Poll reports only one in three believe global warming will pose a serious threat in our lifetimes. One could say we’re responding to this crisis at glacial speed, but that would be a bad joke. In the Arctic Circle, the Inuit people are losing the ice on which they live at an alarming rate. Just as the people of New Orleans found themselves standing in water where once there were streets, so the Inuit have watched parts of their frozen homelands liquefy.

The Inuit aren’t alone. The World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich reports that the European Alps stand to lose three-quarters of their glaciers to climate change in this century. Melting peaks in the Andes that had been snowy year-round for centuries are changing the lives of indigenous Ecuadorians living in their shadow. The problem isn’t limited to one continent or country but studies suggest the impact of climate change will be most marked in the Arctic, with only a small zone of permanent ice remaining by 2050. The Inuit will bear a disproportionate burden, losing not only the ice on which they travel and hunt, and the habitat for animals they hunt, but also certain harvesting rights due to newly opened passages between continents.

Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a representative of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, an international organization that represents Inuit struggling in four countries bordering the Arctic Circle, spoke urgently at Santa Monica-based Global Green’s 10th Annual Green Cross Millennium Awards at the Beverly Hills Hotel last month. Watt-Cloutier, an award recipient, pointed out that the Inuit are like the proverbial canary in the coalmine, warning us of dangers to come. In the lower 48, we spend approximately 90 percent of our time indoors, disconnected from the earth. By contrast, the Inuit spend many more of their waking hours outdoors where they witness the effects of climate change on a daily basis.

Global Green, the American wing of Mikhail Gorbachev’s Green Cross International, is actively involved in numerous eco projects from policy and advocacy to green affordable housing and green schools. Their Millennium Awards were established in 1996 to honor those who share Global Green USA’s mission of “fostering a global value shift toward a sustainable and secure world.” Other 2006 honorees included designer William McDonough, Bioneers founders Nina Simons and Kenny Ausubel, Thomas Leppert of the Turner Corporation and California Assemblymember Fran Pavley.

For more info about Global Green, go to For info about the Inuit, go to or Abigail Lewis

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