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38 Envtl. L. Rep. News & Analysis 10329 (2008)
Global Climate Change: A Serious Threat to Native American Lands and Culture

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Copyright © 2008 Environmental Law Institute®, Washington, DC. reprinted with permission from ELR®, http://www.eIi.org, 1-800-433-5120.


38 ELR 10329


Global Climate Change: A Serious Threat to Native American

                                       Lands and Culture

                                            by Jacqueline P. Hand

                 Editors 'Summary: During the past decade, public perception ofglobal climate
                 change has transformedfrom a gloom and doom scenario not to be taken seri-
                 ously to a nearly universally recognized peril to the planet. Native Americans,
                 especially those in the Arctic region, experience changes in climate with
                 greater immediacy than the general population, and this disproportionate re-
                 sult is expected to become more severe as the effects of climate change escalate.
                 This Article will explore the nature of the impact of climate change on Native
                 Americans, the importance of including traditional tribal knowledge and ex-
                 pertise in understanding the crisis and developing adaptive mechanisms, and
                 the responses by individual tribes as well as by indigenous people as a whole.

I. Climate Change Impacts on Native Peoples

The mechanics of climate change have been fully explained
by a number of excellent sources.' Very briefly, global warm-
ing is caused by the release of greenhouse gases (GHGs)
generated by large quantities of fossil fuels used by our
post-Industrial Revolution economy. These gases regulate
how much of the sun's heat is reflected back into space and
how much is trapped by the earth's atmosphere. The United
Nations (U.N.) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) estimates that the average surface tempera-
ture of the earth will increase between 2.5 and 10.4 degrees
Fahrenheit (0F) within the next 100 years if GHGs are not
sharply curtailed.2
   The impacts of these temperature changes are and will
continue to be dramatic. They are not limited to the direct ef-
fects of hotter weather, ranging from drought to violent
storms, but also include consequences such as crop losses
leading to food shortages,3 new diseases, and water short-

Jacqueline R Hand is a professor at the University of Detroit Mercy
(UDM) School of Law and director of the UDM American Indian Law
Center. She thanks her research assistant, Chad Braswell, for his excellent
work on this project.
  1. For a particularly lucid explanation, see Union of Concerned Scien-
     tists, Frequently Asked Questions About Global Warming, http://
     faq.html (last visited Mar. 11, 2008) [hereinafter Union of Con-
     cemed Scientists FAQ]; see also STERN REVIEW, THE ECONOMICS
     able at http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/independent-reviews/stem
     review-economics climate change/sternreview index.cfm.
  2. See Union of Concerned Scientists FAQ, supra note 1 (summarizing
     the IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report).
     NERABILITY 413-14 (2007), available at http://www.ipcc-wg2.org/
     [hereinafter IPCC WORKING GROUP II REPORT]:

ages. In addition, greater temperatures lead to warmer
oceans, which lead to melting icebergs, rising sea levels, and
flooding.5 This rise in water temperature may lead to more
intense storm events and will have a direct impact on coral
and fish species.6 These changes can impact the geographic

       Due to the very large number of people that may be affected,
       malnutrition linked to extreme climactic events may be one
       of the most important consequences of climate change ....
       Climate change is projected to increase the percentage of Ma-
       lian population at risk of hunger from 34% to between 64%
       and 72% by the 2050's.
    POLICYMAKERS 11 (2007), available at http://www.ipcc-wg2.org/
    (predicting that unmitigated, possible effects of global climate
    change could include a declining of water supplies stored in glaciers
    and snow covers, which would reduce water availability in regions
    supplied by meltwater from major mountain ranges, where more
    than one-sixth of the world population live) [hereinafter IPCC IM-
    PACTS SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS]; see also id. at 13 (By 2020
    between 75 million and 250 million people (in Africa) are projected
    to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change. If cou-
    pled with increased demand, this will adversely affect livelihoods
    and exacerbate water-related problems.).
  5. See id. at 13, referencing Chapter 10. This chapter details how gla-
    cier melt in the Himalayas is projected to increase flooding and how
    coastal areas, especially heavily-populated megadelta regions in
    South, East and South-East Asia, will be at greatest risk due to in-
    creased flooding from the sea, and in some megadeltas, flooding
    from rivers.
  6. See IPCC WORKING GROUP II REPORT, supra note 3, at 23 5 (detail-
    ing how [m]any studies incontrovertibly link coral bleaching to
    warmer sea surface temperature thresholds). Annual or bi-annual
    exceedance of bleaching thresholds is projected at the majority of
    reefs worldwide by 2030 to 2050. After bleaching, algae quickly col-
    onize dead corals, possibly inhibiting later coral recruitment.; see
    also id. at 8:
       There is high confidence, based on substantial new evidence,
       that observed changes in marine and freshwater biological
       systems are associated with rising water temperatures, as


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