The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) today released a new video as well as the first consensus statement of its board of directors regarding global climate change during a free public town hall meeting in San Francisco, California.

The town hall meeting, part of the 2007 AAAS Annual Meeting, was organized by AAAS in collaboration with three leading U.S. education organizations -- the California Science Teachers Association, the National Science Teachers Association, and the United Educators of San Francisco (representing the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers).

This image, courtesy of Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University, shows the retreating Qori Kalis glacier in the Andes of Peru in 2000. It's now more than 200 feet deep, covering some 84 acres. Additional images related to this story are available in the AAAS Annual Meeting virtual newsroom. Credit: Lonnie Thompson, Ohio State University

Reflecting a growing torrent of evidence, the AAAS Board statement confirms that "global climate change caused by human activities is occurring now, and it is a growing threat to society." Fossil-fuel burning and deforestation have contributed to an atmospheric carbon-dioxide level that is higher than it has been for at least 650,000 years. As a result, "the average temperature of the Earth is heading for levels not experienced for millions of years," the AAAS board concluded.

Already, "Scientists are observing rapid melting of glaciers, destabilization of major ice sheets, rising sea levels, shifts in species ranges, and increased frequency of weather extremes," AAAS President John P. Holdren wrote in a cover letter to town hall attendees. "As droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms intensify, damages to ecosystems and human society are growing apace."

Some of the most dramatic changes are being experienced in the far North, where temperatures have risen much more rapidly than the global average, according to Holdren, who serves as director of the Woods Hole Research Center and Teresa and John Heinz Professor of Environmental Policy at Harvard University.

The plight of the 600 residents of Shishmaref, Alaska, provides a powerful illustration of the human impacts of global climate change. In Shishmaref, on the shores of the Arctic Ocean, the retreat of sea ice and the rise of sea level are combining to drive them from their village and destroy residents' way of life.

Two Shishmaref teachers, two city leaders, and three high-school students who won an essay-writing contest will be on hand at the AAAS event in San Francisco to catch the premiere of a new short video featuring their experiences. The group will include Shishmaref Science Teacher Ken Stenek; Elementary Teacher Denise Thoreson; Transportation Planner Tony Weyiouanna Sr.; Mayor Stanley Tocktoo; and students Frieda Grierson (grade 9, age 14), Jaime Barr (grade 11, age 16), and Simon Weyiouanna (grade 11, age 16).

In the video, Stenek, Tocktoo, and Weyiouanna Sr. each describe their observations of dramatic physical changes in Shishmaref, a 4,000-year-old Inupiaq village, such as rapid beach erosion and thinning ice.

"The fish are way up river and gone somewhere else," Tocktoo said. "With the permafrost nowadays, we bury our fish and food very shallow because the sun is so hot, the sun might heat up the sand and then spoil all our food. That's what I'm worried about."

Weyiouanna said that hunting and fishing seasons have changed, too, because of warmer weather and shorter winters. Stenek noted that he has seen "probably close to a hundred feet of land that's been eroded away on the north side of the island." Village officials say that since 2001, the island has lost an average of nearly 23 feet of shoreline per year, and some buildings have collapsed into the sea. The village is seeking $180 million in government support for relocation.

Regions around the Arctic "are like the coal miner's canary, the early warning to the rest of us of the extent to which the Earth's climate is changing," Holdren said in recent interviews. "As we see Inuit villages being forced to be relocated, away from the shoreline, we see a preview of the fate that is going to befall London, and Washington, D.C., and New York, and Boston, and Bombay, as sea level goes up worldwide."

AAAS expects up to 1,000 K-12 teachers, students, scientists, and others to take part Sunday, 18 February in the town hall meeting where attendees will cast instant-tally votes for their favorite global climate-change solutions.

News release by AAAS.