Climate Change Report: Do We Have a Right to Be Cold?

An e-mail from husband David, stationed at the Montreal U.N. global warming conference:

One of the side events at the U.N. conference on global warming that generated some buzz was one entitled “The Right to Be Cold: Inuit Defend Their Human Rights in the Face of Climate Change.”

The briefing, sponsored by the Inuit Circumpolar Conference (ICC), was organized to draw attention to concerns by Inuit that rising global temperatures could have a devastating impact on the game upon which the Inuits depend for food, thus threatening the survival of their culture.

The ICC was founded in 1977 and claims to represent approximately 150,00 Inuit of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (Russia).

To quote from the Inuit Circumpolar Conference’s Arctic Climate Impact Assessment: “Observations by Inuit should help to convince the skeptics that climate change is a reality. Inuit hunters are keen observers of the natural environment. They have to be; they depend upon it for food.”

Apparently, their keen skills of observation don’t just extend to the natural environment, but to science, too. The ICC has concluded not only that global warming is occurring, but also that the United States is responsible for it.

An ICC press release issued today has the headline, “Inuit Petition Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to Oppose Climate Change Caused by the United States of America.”

But the ICC got me thinking. Is there a right to the fulfillment of one’s personal body temperature preference? Is it a human right?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that at the time I pondered this I was walking back from the Palais des Congres (where the meeting is being held) to my hotel in 16 degree Fahrenheit weather (minus one degree if you count the wind chill).

My conclusion is “yes” – so fire up those Hummers.

On a serious note, attempts to curb greenhouse gas emissions do have significant implications for those in the developing world.

A compelling illustration of this was provided by David Garman, Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, at a U.S. Department of State-sponsored briefing that ran concurrently with the ICC event.

Garman told a story about his experience in the Peace Corps. He noted the village where he was based had no access to fossil fuels and was entirely dependent on wood for its energy needs. As a consequence, the surrounding forests were denuded and families increased in size for the purpose of having more people to gather firewood. Greater environmental degradation and more despair was the result.

He concluded by saying, “a little energy would have done a lot of good.”

That about says it all.

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