Warmer winters, thinner ice, stranger weather — climate change has begun to undermine subsistence life along the Yukon River, according to a new federal study that collected and analyzed observations by Native residents in two southwestern Alaska villages.
“They expressed concerns ranging from safety, such as unpredictable weather patterns and dangerous ice conditions, to changes in plants and animals as well as decreased availability of firewood,” say the researchers in this story about their work that was posted by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The study, published this month in the journal of Human Organization, found that hunters and elders in the Yup’ik communities of St. Mary’s and Pitka’s Point noticed a litany of dramatic climate shifts over the course of their lives, forcing changes in how they gather food and wood while making it more difficult to read the sky correctly before heading out into the tundra.
Among the findings:
- The weather seems to change more quickly than it used to — sometimes growing unexpectedly worse — making it harder to plan trips into the country to hunt or gather food.
- Spring snow depth has decreased, leading to failures in the summer crop of salmonberries — an important food staple — once the tundra dries out.
- Spring flooding doesn’t last as long, and the quicker plunge in river levels following breakup has an unexpected consequence. The year’s new supply of driftwood logs — traditionally used to replenish firewood caches for heating homes — now sometimes gets stranded away from the riverbank in brush, where it’s harder to find, haul out and cut up.
- Rivers themselves don’t freeze as hard or as long during winter, and contain larger and more frequent spans of open water, making travel by snowmachines and dog team dangerous. During summer, more extensive gravel bars make boating more difficult.
Several Republican presidential candidates — Texas Gov. Rick Perry at the fore — are dismissing climate change as a concoction of misguided or self-serving scientists.
But a growing number of Main Street and regional business leaders — types often viewed as Republican-leaning — are taking the issue ever-more seriously, if not to save the world at least to serve their bottom lines.
Each year the American Chamber of Commerce Executives, Partners for Livable Communities and the Institute for Sustainable Development give out “Green Plus” awards to local chambers and communities that have launched exemplary, community-wide efforts to “go green” with varieties of carbon-saving initiatives.
Winners for 2011 include Cleveland, Chattanooga, Tenn., Savannah, Ga., North Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Gatlinburg, Tenn.
Local efforts have been getting hands-on carbon counseling for several years from ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability USA.
Climbers and custodians of Everest say that rapid climate change could soon make for an ice-free ascent of the world’s tallest mountain.
Their warning comes come amid a new international effort to gauge the effects of climate change in the Himalayas – and shield local people from potential hazards. A US-funded mission, led by the Mountain Institute, is meeting in Kathmandu to try to find practical solutions to the threat of catastrophic high-altitude flooding from lakes forming at the foot of melting glaciers.
With profits soaring for hard-rock mining and oil and gas companies doing business on public lands, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., is leading the charge to get the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether American taxpayers are getting their fair share.
Udall, cousin of Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, sent a letter to GAO officials Thursday asking the agency to “undertake an examination of the value of minerals extracted and the amount of revenues collected in fiscal year 2010.” U.S. Rep. Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., also signed the letter.
“The U.S Department of the Interior manages approximately 700 million acres of subsurface federal minerals on public land and 1.7 billion acres on the Outer Continental Shelf,” the lawmakers wrote. “These minerals include hard-rock minerals — such as gold, silver and copper — that are available without having to pay a royalty.
“It is vitally important that the American taxpayer receives a fair return for the mineral resources extracted from federal land.”
The lawmakers want the GAO to prepare a report on the minerals being extracted under the 1872 Mining Law, which does not require royalties, and various other mineral leasing acts. Specifically, they want to know:
BP is asking regulators to approve a blueprint for new deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico for the first time since its Macondo well blew out last year, triggering the nation’s worst oil spill.
In a filing with the U.S. government made public this week, the British oil company seeks to expand on previously approved drilling plans at its Kaskida prospect, about 220 miles off the Louisiana coast.
Federal regulators broadly signed off on BP’s plans to drill up to five wells at the site in 2008. In the new filing, BP is asking permission to drill two more wells at Kaskida and change the location of two others.
If the exploration plan were approved, BP still would have to get the government’s approval to drill individual wells at the site, with each vetted separately.
BP said its plan embraces “enhanced performance standards” that go beyond federal requirements, including backup emergency equipment and engineer-witnessed testing of cement used in wells.
In July, the company pledged to abide by those voluntary safeguards for its Gulf drilling, in a bid to reassure regulators and the public that it can resume safe offshore exploration and has learned the lessons of last year’s disaster.