Global Warming as a Human Rights Issue
The Inuit – about 155,000 of them are scattered throughout the Arctic – are trying to put a different spin on global warming. They’ve taken their case to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, seeking a ruling that the United States, by contributing substantially to global warming, is threatening their very existence.
Non-industrial countries and communities from the Arctic to the tropics – people whose everyday lives are completely shaped by their physical environment – are framing the looming environmental disasters as a human rights issue. To them, increasing temperatures and rising sea levels mean the end of life as they know it, not just something to read about over coffee.
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights is an investigative organization with no enforcement powers. But they could lay the groundwork for a federal or international lawsuit against American polluters by ruling that global warming violates the Inuits’ human rights. Inuit representatives will begin the legal process by collecting videotaped statements from hunters and elders about how they’ve been impacted by the shrinking northern icescape.
Legal experts have predicted that if this approach is successful, it could lead to a stream of litigation comparable to the numerous lawsuits against the tobacco industry.