WASHINGTON – As the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, the United States has come under heavy criticism, including from people who live almost on top of the world.
The Inuits of Northern Canada and beyond are taking their case against the United States on Thursday to an international human rights commission.
They have scant chance of a breakthrough but still hope to score moral and political points against the U.S. and its carbon spewers.
"The point here is that our way of life is at stake," says Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who was nominated with former Vice President Al Gore for a Nobel Peace Prize for their work on climate change.
She was preparing to make the Inuit case at a hearing of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, an arm of the 34-member Organization of American States.
[The commission, if it finds the case has merit, can turn the matter over to the related Inter-American Court on Human Rights.]
The Inuit population hails from Canada, Russia and Greenland, as well as Alaska, where they are known as Eskimos.
They have been trying to tell the world for more than a decade about the shifting winds and thinning ice that have damaged the hunting grounds the Northern peoples have used for thousands of years.
Watt-Cloutier spoke earlier this week in Iqaluit, the capital of Canada's Arctic Nunavut Territory about 200 miles south of the Arctic Circle, before leaving for Washington.
Simon Nattaq, a hunter, blames climate change for the loss of his feet in February 2001. He says his snow mobile and all his gear plunged through unusually thin ice, leaving him stranded for two days. He now walks — and still hunts — with prosthetic feet and believes God kept him alive to warn the world about global warming.
Many researchers believe the world likely is growing warmer because of the heat-trapping, or "greenhouse," properties of carbon dioxide and other human-generated gases that are being emitted into the atmosphere.
Scientists generally agree the Arctic is the first place on Earth to be impacted by rising global temperatures.
They say that unless developed nations such as the United States — responsible for one-fourth of world's greenhouse gases — do not dramatically reduce their emissions within the next 15 years, the Arctic ice likely will melt by the end of the century.