Source: A United Tribes Technical College production for NASA's Where Words Touch the Earth
In this video segment adapted from United Tribes Technical College, hear young Native Americans talk about climate change. Listen as they respond to the question, "Why does climate change matter?" They share their opinions about the importance of climate; their thoughts on how climate change is affecting weather, oceans, and ice; and their fears about the impacts for future generations.
In all the news and discussion about contemporary climate change, there are a number of common misconceptions. For example, many people are unclear about the difference between weather and climate. Weather describes the conditions at a particular place and time; it can change in a very short amount of time, from hour to hour, or day to day. Climate, on the other hand, describes the average weather of a particular place over a period of many years. Climate change refers to the long-term change in a region's weather patterns, such as an increase or decrease in average temperature or rainfall amounts. Global warming is a term that refers to one aspect of climate change that we are currently experiencing today: an increase in Earth's average temperature.
Some people falsely believe that climate change is not really happening and that it is just a scare tactic used for power and in politics. However, there is vast scientific evidence that average global temperatures have been rising at a rapid rate over the past century. Another common point of confusion arises from records of cooling that we see in some parts of the globe. If we view the climate from an Earth system perspective, it's easy to understand that an increase in Earth’s average temperature will change atmosphere and ocean circulation patterns, which will then change patterns of heat distribution on Earth’s surface. Such changes may result in increased frequency or intensity of heat waves, severe storms, and drought in some regions, while other areas may experience increased precipitation and cooler temperatures. In addition, remember that there is a difference between weather and climate. If a region experiences one exceptionally cold winter, it does not necessarily indicate a trend toward a colder climate.
Another common misconception is that solar activity or other natural Earth processes, such as volcanic eruptions, can explain the rise in global temperatures. Scientists have not been able to account for the recent rapid rate of warming by such natural processes. The scientific consensus is that human-produced greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide, are responsible for most of the warming that we are experiencing on the planet. Greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, and nitrous oxide) trap energy in the atmosphere. This increases the time that short-wave energy returning from Earth remains in the climate system, which raises Earth's surface temperatures. There is overwhelming evidence linking human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, to an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and the rise in global temperatures.
Another familiar misconception is that there is plenty of time to adapt to or mitigate climate change. Changes in climate are already affecting many parts of the world. If we were to wait for more effects to become more obvious, it would be too late to reverse them. Even if we stopped emitting greenhouse gases today, the warming would not stop immediately. The greenhouse gases already released, and the energy stored in the Earth system, will continue to cause Earth's average temperature to rise for several more decades. This delayed reaction means that it is important for us all to take action as soon as possible to control greenhouse gas emissions.
The Native American students featured in this video represent several North Dakota tribes. Guovanni Jeanette, Wesley Jeanette, and Averie Jeanette are from the Turtle Mountain Band of Cheppewa; Chance Pettigrew and Kierun Lindeman are from the Oglala Sioux Tribe; and Briarrose Littlebird is from the Crow.
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