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 in North Dakota, Native Americans talk about climate change and how it impacts their lives as they experience unexpected changes in environmental conditions. They describe observed changes in seasonality, how these changes affect ecosystems and habitats, their respect for Mother Earth, and the participation of tribal colleges in climate change research projects.
Over the past century, there has been a rapid increase in average global temperature. While this rising trend of Earth's average surface temperature has been referred to as global warming, this term can lead to misconceptions. People may not understand that although the average global temperature is increasing, some regions may actually experience colder temperatures than usual, and that a changing climate leads to many other serious consequences besides a change in temperature. The terms global warming and climate change are sometimes used interchangeably, but they have different meanings. Climate change is a broader term that incorporates global warming as well as other changes in the Earth system.
Earth is made up of many interrelated components. The atmosphere, land, water, and living things are all connected in complex ways. The Sun provides the energy necessary for life; its energy also drives the weather and climate on Earth, creating temperature and precipitation patterns. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are not all bad; in fact, without them, Earth’s entire surface would be frozen and unsuitable for life. However, human activities (especially the burning of fossil fuels) have increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to levels about 30 percent higher than at any time in the past 800,000 years. This increase in greenhouse gases traps additional heat in the Earth system and is responsible for serious consequences, such as rising sea levels and dwindling Arctic sea ice. Changes in temperature, precipitation, seasonality, and extreme weather events impact the range and distribution of plants and animals and affect the timing of events such as blooming and migration.
Many indigenous populations hold unique knowledge about the environment, since their traditional subsistence lifestyle relies on the natural world for food, clothing, and materials. Elders have witnessed changes in the patterns and cycles of nature within their lifetimes at a spatial granularity not often observed by scientists. This knowledge is crucial to a deeper understanding of the environmental implications of a warming planet.
As climate change continues to progress, there will likely be more extreme weather events, unexpected conditions, and local and global changes. It is critically important for us to better understand what is happening and how people can help be a part of the solution. An awareness of the interconnected systems of Earth—both the Native view of Mother Earth and the scientific endeavor to understand Earth as a system—can help guide us.
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