Global warming and the need for leadership – Meg’s research from 2008

Meg has a J.D. in Urban, Land Use and Environmental Law. She focuses on maintaining the balance of community and environmental health, healthy lifestyles, and encouraging sustainable living.

I wrote this as part of my senior thesis at the University of Kansas in May 2008. The class was about the history of accidents, both natural and human-induced. I looked at a place in Greenland dubbed “Warming Island” that was visited by a U.S. delegation led by then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a group of representatives.

Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, the representative from the 5th District of Missouri (Kansas City area), was a part of the delegation to Greenland. In the two summers following his trip, I was able to intern in his DC and Kansas City offices. His ideas about global warming and the environment in many ways sparked my current interest in environmental health. He is so unbelievably passionate about bettering the world, it just naturally rubs off on anyone he meets. During his initial campaign for Congress, my granddad Mesle met him and worked on his campaign. Granddad still talks about how nice Rep. Cleaver was to be around, how he wears his love for his community on his sleeve, and always asks me to tell him hello.

I don’t necessarily mean to sound like I’m putting in my plug for Cleaver, I just think it’s important to understand where the inspiration comes from. He really has been a significant influence in my growing interest of balancing community needs with environmental needs, all while juggling the various issues of the world. I’d like to share an excerpt from my 2008 thesis about Warming Island in Greenland, and Rep. Cleaver’s commitment to community and environmental health. Please note, the following information is current as of May 2008.

Here you go.

 “Warming Island” in Greenland

The Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is the second largest ice sheet in the world next to the Antarctic Ice Sheet. During Speaker Pelosi’s delegation to Greenland in May 2007, she noticed the rapid speed at which the ice is breaking off and melting. She learned the amount of ice breaking off in two days time would provide enough fresh water for all of New York City for an entire year. The delegation inspired other political officials to travel to the island, including several Senators, in July 2007.

Some scientists say the melting ice is being offset by the amount of snow accumulation during the winter months, but there is also a highly significant correlation within the last decade of temperatures in Greenland with the Northern Hemisphere. This correlation suggests that global warming may very well be emerging within GrIS in the present day. One man, who is a veteran arctic explorer, made a discovery several years ago that would change the visible perception of global warming.

Dennis Schmidt is an explorer who discovered “Warming Island” in Greenland in September 2005. It is an island on the east side of Greenland, about 400 miles north of the Arctic Circle, which was previously thought to be a peninsula. During an expedition to GrIS in September 2006, Schmidt commented that documenting the island was important because it is, “a very visual, very graphic example of climate change… maybe the best that exists in the world today.” Makers of this video documentary who traveled with Schmidt reflected on how scientists had been warning for years that the warming atmosphere would “wake up” the ice sheet and send hundreds of billions of tons of ice surging into the ocean, raising sea levels and drowning coastal cities. (To see a brief video documenting the island, click here.)

“I think a lot of people that will look at this will be fascinated because of its beauty, but also interested in it because it is a clear example of climate change,” commented Schmidt about the view of the landscape. In the documentary, the visible gap between the mainland and the now island appears to be at least several hundred feet. When Speaker Pelosi’s delegation travelled to the island in May 2007, they witnessed these effects first hand and realized the severity of global warming.


Cleaver’s commitment to the environment

To approach the issues surrounding global warming, Congressman Cleaver uses many different strategies. It is my understanding that neither oil companies nor delegates for non-renewable resource companies financially support Cleaver’s political office. He is therefore more flexible to speak openly about his concerns for the environment and what he believes to be the root causes for those concerns (such as oil companies drilling in the Chukchi).

When he addressed the Progressive National Baptist Convention in August 2007, Cleaver asserted to his listeners to make the earth’s environment a high priority. “There is overwhelming scientific evidence that the sin of materialism and greed are inextricably linked to the alarming rise in greenhouse gas emissions, and that, my friends, demands an urgent response,” he asserted. This comment followed a lunch conversation I had with him while in Washington D.C. during the summer of 2007. Cleaver believes there are many ways to attack the problems of global warming. One of those ways is through politics and legislation, and the other way is through religious promotion of possible solution. “If one Sunday, every preacher in the country said that everyone needs to use less gas, less water, recycle more, and care more about our environment, on Monday morning, everyone would be out buying a hybrid car.” He acknowledges that there is more than one way to approach global warming, and it is important to try to get through to people on multiple levels to ensure that the message about global warming gets across.

Protecting the environment and the vulnerable communities in the world from global warming is an important issue for which few people are up to the task. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver focuses on bringing together communities and protecting them from social and environmental injustice, which makes him a perfect candidate for provoking global unity. Cleaver is a man who is focused on solutions to problems surrounding struggling communities, whether they are black, poor, polar bear, or arctic ice. He believes in a balance within the social and spiritual spheres that keeps the world in harmony. When that balance is shifted, the world struggles, and Cleaver takes it upon himself to help bring the world back into balance.

– Meg McCollister, May 2008

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