Atmospheric concentrations of planet-warming gases have hit record highs, according to a leading U.N. climate agency. (Photo: Tony Webster/Flickr/cc)
As communities most impacted by the climate crisis ramp up demands for urgent global action, atmospheric concentrations of the top three greenhouse gases driving global warming have hit record high levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) out Thursday.”
Last year, as the latest WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin (pdf) details, average concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide all rose—with CO2 hitting 405.5 parts per million (ppm), its highest level in a few million years.
The report also noted that there was a “resurgence of a potent greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance”—called trichlorofluoromethane, or CFC-11—likely tied to “increased emissions associated with production of CFC-11 in eastern Asia.” Continue reading →
Environmentalists on Monday slammed President Donald Trump’s replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter warning that it “would enshrine and globalize Trump’s deregulatory zealotry into a trade pact that would outlast the administration and imperil future efforts to protect consumers, workers, and the environment.”
Presented as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), many have noted that Trump’s trade deal, as Bloombergput it, “looks more like a rebranding than a revolution,” despite Trump’s vows when he was a presidential candidate that he would negotiate a new deal that’s dramatically better for American workers. As experts and campaigners comb through the details of the agreement, environmental activists are homing in on provisions they warn would endanger people and the planet. Continue reading →
The Colorado River, one of the longest rivers in the United States, is gradually shrinking. This is partly a result of overuse by municipalities and seasonal drought. The other reason is global warming.
The decline in the river reservoir will have serious implications for large U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles, that depend on the Colorado River as their water source. In addition, this will also have an impact on the Native American tribes who view the Colorado River as sacred to their religions.
As Ka-Voka Jackson, a member of the Hualapai tribe and a graduate student working to address climate change on the Colorado River and restoring native plant species along its banks, stated,
“The Colorado River is so sacred not just to my tribe, but to so many others.”
As a scholar of Native American religions and the environment, I understand how indigenous people’s religions and sacred places are closely tied to their landscape. For the past 100 years, indigenous peoples have been forced to adapt to changes in their environments and modify their religious rituals in the United States. The U.S. government made certain Native American religious practices illegal in the 19th and early 20th century. Although these policies have since been rescinded, they led to changes in many indigenous practices.
Global warming, however, is different. The question is whether indigenous people will be able to adapt their beliefs all over again due to the impact of global warming on the natural world.
Adapting to change
The Blackfeet tribe in Montana brought changes in their relationship with the natural world as a result of the policies of the U.S. government from the 1880s to the 1930s.
For example, the Blackfeet purposefully moved religious ceremonies from one time on their liturgical calendar to completely different times to avoid the U.S. government penalizing native people for dancing or participating in religious ceremonies.
The Blackfeet moved their annual O’kan, or sundance festival, from late summer (usually held at the end of August) to the Fourth of July celebration. They avoided U.S. government punishment by masking their ceremonies within state-sanctioned public events.
Policies related to the mining of natural resources and damming of rivers on indigenous lands have also led to changes in Native Americans’ religious practices.
Historian David R. M. Beckinterviewed elders and researched how the Menominee tribe in Wisconsin adapted to the loss of their sacred fish, the sturgeon, after a paper mill built a dam across the Wolf River.
The sturgeon disappeared after the dam was built in 1892, because they could no longer swim upstream to spawn. For over 100 years, the Menominee tribal members continued to pray and conduct their annual “returning of the sturgeon” ceremony in the spring – even though there were no more sturgeon in the river. The Menominee ultimately won the right to return the sturgeon to the Wolf River in 1992 and the tribe revitalized the full ceremony and celebration of their sacred fish.
In all these situations, Native American tribes learned to adapt to the challenges placed before them, modify their religious practice and embrace a different relationship with the natural world.
Global warming and religion
When it comes to global climate change, it affects everyone, not just specific groups in specific places. But for many indigenous peoples, natural resources are closely linked to religious beliefs and practices.
Historically, indigenous peoples used the natural seasonal cycles of weather, plants and animals as part of their liturgical or religious calendar. The Blackfeet held their annual “beaver bundle ceremony” in the early spring as ice melted off rivers and beavers returned to the open waters. In Blackfeet mythology, a beaver served as a deity who taught humans how to cultivate tobacco, which the tribe used for important religious ceremonies and as a peace offering to their enemies.
There are signs, though, that beavers are now moving north due to global warming. Biologists are currently studying both beavers and the birch and alder shrubs
that beavers eat, as both move north into new regions. Scientists worry that as a keystone species, the movement of beavers will change the northern ecosystems as they cut off waterways and build beaver dams. And shrubs will change the local waterways that they grow by. This will affect local animal species.
What will happen when there are no more beaver in Blackfeet territory? Will their religious traditions adapt similar to the Menominee when they faced the loss of their sacred sturgeon?
Religion and resiliency
From the arctic tundra to the American desert southwest, and places worldwide, indigenous peoples will be facing the impact of global climate change.
Regarding the shrinking of the Colorado River, researchers Brad Udall and Jonathan Overpeckhave concluded that, “Failing to act on climate change means accepting the very high risk that the Colorado River basin will continue to dry up into the future.”
If this river faces a drier future, it will likely affect the Mojave, a people indigenous to the Colorado River basin, who believe the river was created by their ancient deity Mastamho as part of their sacred landscape.
As the G-20 convenes in Germany this week to discuss global issues including climate change, indigenous scholars, such as myself, are wondering what the future holds for indigenous peoples, their environments and their religions.
Indigenous communities can be resilient and adapt their internal religious beliefs to outside challenges, as Native American tribes from the turn of the 20th century have proven. Climate change presents yet another challenge.
Heads of state cheer after the Paris Climate Change Agreement was signed at COP21, 2015, by 197 parties. (cc/Wikipedia)
The world is worried as Decision Day nears.
At a April 29th rally in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Trump said he would make a “big decision” on Paris within the next two weeks and vowed to end “a broken system of global plunder at American expense.”
Now the Trump administration has a meeting scheduled this Tuesday to decide whether to drop out of the Paris Agreement. Continue reading →
What is happening in the Arctic will not stay in the Arctic.
In an ominous (though not hopeless) report published Friday, researchers warn that as many as 19 various ‘tipping points’ could be triggered by the increasingly warm temperatures in the world’s northern polar region.
The Arctic Resilience Report, produced under the auspices of the Arctic Council by an international team of researchers from multiple institutes and universities, is the first comprehensive assessment of its kind, looking at the unique region from a combined social and ecological perspective. By surveying and synthesizing a large body of previous research on how both communities and natural systems are responding to global warming, the report offers a worrying conclusion. Continue reading →
Map: Land and ocean temperature departure from average for March 2016. (NOAA NCEI)
Our ever-warming planet just passed another climate record.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said Tuesday that March 2016 was the warmest March since records began in 1880.
It also marked an 11-month of streak of record-breaking global temperatures.
And at 1.22°C (2.20°F) above the 20th century average of 12.7°C (54.9°F), March 2016 distinguished itself from all 1,635 months on record by having the highest monthly temperature departure. Meteorologists Jeff Masters and Bob Henson wrote, “This is a huge margin for breaking a monthly global temperature record, as they are typically broken by just a few hundredths of a degree. The margin was just a shade larger than NOAA’s previous record for any month of 1.21°C (2.18°F) above average, set in February 2016.” Continue reading →
Velella velella on a beach. Photo from Flickr via Wikimedia Commons.
We have yet to explore 95% of our world oceans.
Researchers continue to gain understanding as technology and improved equipment allows them to boldly go where no one has gone before. This week, a new study was released in Climatewire and reprinted by Scientific American, that revealed astonishing information about how the oceans are absorbing – and hiding – the heat from global warming.
As the oceans absorb heat in the Atlantic and southern oceans, the heat is absorbed in the salt of the water. As the water travels to the arctic, this layer of heated salt sinks when it meets the cold arctic waters. As a result, our oceans don’t cool, they store heat and expel it over decades of cycles. As global warming increases, these patterns will become more difficult for the earth’s natural cycles to control.
But that’s not all that worries us. We also have recently learned through research off the west coast of the United States that human-ocean acidification has reached a level that now endangers shellfish.
Oysters take three years to grow to a marketable size. As CO2 is absorbed in water at a rate 10 times faster than in any other medium, carbon dioxide is changing the ph balance of the ocean’s water. Shell fish like oysters, scallops and mussels need calcium and carbonate to develop and grow their shells. Shells can’t form when acidification of the water takes place.
The bulk of the world’s population is located near coastlines. This is because our oceans have always provided humanity with what seems to be an unlimited food source. What will we as a human race do once the oceans are no longer able to support the food chain that provides for the species we consume?
For the last several weeks, west coast adventurers in the US have been photographing Velella velella, or “by-the-wind sailors,” the silver-purple sea creatures that vaguely resemble jellyfish which are typically found well out in the ocean. They are washing up on the beaches from Washington state to southern California. Some experts tell us there is nothing to be concerned about; they blew in with the wind.
If that were true, why have we not seen them every time there is a west wind blowing for any amount of time? Are we to believe there is no connection between ocean acidification, rising temperatures and the dying of species we have not even fully studied yet?
But you can sleep well, knowing there will be no shocking news tomorrow from the Science world in America. Our congress has decided we should not fund any research that supports or studies global warming or climate change. We can save that money and keep our heads buried in the sand on the beach, while dead species wash up around us.
A Minke whale and her 1-year-old calf are dragged aboard the Nisshin Maru, a Japanese whaling vessel that is the world’s only factory ship. The wound that is visible on the calf’s side was reportedly caused by an explosive-packed harpoon. This image was taken by Australian customs agents in 2008, under a surveillance effort to collect evidence of indiscriminate harvesting, which is contrary to Japan’s claim that they are collecting the whales for the purpose of scientific research. In 2010, Australia filed a lawsuit in the International Court of Justice hoping to halt Japanese whaling; this photograph undoubtedly played a key role in winning that case. Australian Customs and Border Protection Service [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Every year, in the Southern Ocean off the coasts of Australia, a battle is waged. There will be loss of life, as there has been every year since 1986. Japan’s whale program harvesting ships arrives for their annual harvest of nearly one thousand minke whales, all under the guise of “scientific research.”
In 1986, the world’s whale populations had decreased to the point that many species were endangered. In response, the International Whaling Commission issued a ban on commercial whale harvesting. The IWC has nearly 90 member countries, including the UK. But three member nations – Norway, Iceland and Japan – have lodged objections to the ban and continue to whale commercially.
On March 31, Australia won an international lawsuit against Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling program and the International Court of Justice has ordered Tokyo to cease the killing immediately, according to a report in News.com.au.
“Presiding Judge Peter Tomka of Slovakia said Japan had not justified the large number of minke whales it takes under its program, while failing to meet much smaller targets for fin and humpback whales. Japan has said it will abide by the decision, but it does not necessarily mean a permanent end to whaling.”
The United Nation’s court ordered a halt to the issuing of whaling permits until the program has been revamped.
Australia and environmental groups say the hunt serves no scientific purpose and is just a way for Japan to get around the moratorium on commercial whaling imposed by the International Whaling Commission in 1986.
As the largest species of the planet, these animals have been spared from some hunting. There are still whales taken in the name of research, and commercial fishing also has its perils. But after surviving these unnatural forces, whales still face ever increasing odds at survival.
We learned during the hunt for MH370 that the world’s oceans are full of junk and debris. They also have areas that are becoming toxic to aquatic life, such as the waters surrounding Fukushima and the Gulf of Mexico’s oil spillages.
Minke Whale. Photo By NOAA (http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2006/s2743.htm) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
But the biggest threat is also the most ominous for all life on earth – global warming. As the world’s oceans rise in temperature, many of the species whales feed on are threatened. More sensitive to temperatures than larger species, organisms like plankton and krill are already showing depletion and stress.
In fact, research shows that more and more species are being threatened and are nearing extinction levels. Polar bears are one of the largest land animals to be directly affected; as polar ice disappears, they are no longer to feed on seals in the arctic waters while being able to rest on the large chunks of sea ice.
Whales are perhaps the most intelligent species in the animal world, with brains large enough to have the capacity to map the world’s oceans. I often wonder what they would want to say to us if communication between the species could ever be realized.