Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Global Warming: The Inuit Take on Washington

Who will save humanity from global warming? It may very well be impoverished indigenous peoples "from the Arctic fringes to the atolls of the tropics to the flanks of the Himalayas," whose very survival is "imperiled by rising temperatures and seas through no fault of their own" and who therefore regard polluters who cause climate change as violators of human rights (Andrew C. Revkin, "To Eskimos, Warming is a Rights Issue," New York Times/International Herald Tribune, December 16, 2004). The vanguard are the 155,000-strong Inuit, who will "seek a ruling from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights [an arm of the Organization of American States] that the United States, by contributing substantially to global warming, is threatening their existence" (Revkin, December 16, 2004).
The Inuit's weapon of choice in this David-vs.-Goliath battle is very modern: science. They are well armed indeed. The latest ammunition in their arsenal is a report by the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (a joint project of the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee to "evaluate and synthesize knowledge on climate variability, climate change, and increased ultraviolet radiation and their consequences"): Impacts of a Warming Arctic: Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (2004).

The Inter-American Commission has no enforcement powers, but a ruling that Washington violated the Inuit's human rights could "create the foundation for an eventual lawsuit, either against the United States in an international court or against American companies in a U.S. court" (Revkin, December 16, 2004). The lawyers of EarthJustice and the Center for International Environmental Law say that the Inter-American Commission has "a record of treating environmental degradation as a human rights matter" (Revkin, December 16, 2004) -- very promising. Better yet, polluters already see the writing on the wall: "Christopher Horner, a lawyer for the Cooler Heads Coalition, an industry-financed group opposed to cutting the emissions, said the chances of success of such lawsuits had risen. From his standpoint, he said, 'The planets are aligned very poorly'" (Revkin, December 16, 2004).

Tuvalu, "a nation of atolls about 5 meters, or 15 feet, above sea level," threatened to "sue the United States in 2002 in the International Court of Justice, but held off for a variety of reasons" (Revkin, December 16, 2004). If the Inuit win a lawsuit or two, though, Tuvalu and others may be emboldened to join the good fight.

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