JONATHAN RUGMAN: Abraham and his friend, Jonah, are out on a hunting trip. Inuit warriors of the 21st century speeding for over an hour across the frozen ocean till they reach the water's edge; testing the ice to see if it can take their weight; rifles loaded in case they spot a tasty seal. They watch and wait, but not one seal comes near them. "It's the ice," says Abraham, "it's melting."
ABRAHAM KEENAINAK (Translated): I started hunting with my father, and there's a big difference now. We get a lot less ice to travel across to reach where the seals are.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Forty years ago, this time of year, how much further out would this edge of ice have been?
ABRAHAM KEENAINAK (Translated): That little island way over there, it was all ice between here and there. That's where we used to go hunting for seals because there were a lot more over there.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: This fjord, once frozen nine months of the year, now solid for just six. The Inuktitut language has 50 expressions for snow and ice, but no words for the warm weather birds now appearing here. Last year's summer, the hottest recorded in a century, an environment changing so fast that locals like Jonah can barely keep up.
JONAH KILABUK: What I have noticed is the flowers -- some flowers that I've never seen are growing from the ground. There used to be glaciers all year round. But now in summer, they're gone.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: I'm standing on the edge of a region, which the local Inuit people call "Auyuittuq," which means "The Land That Never Melts." Well, melting it is. Scientists reckon the winter temperature has gone up by four degrees over the last 50 years, and they're projecting it could go up another 7 degrees over the next 100 years, with potentially devastating consequences for the wildlife and the people who live here.
Scientists believe around 250 million acres of seasonal Arctic ice has disappeared in the last quarter century. Less ice means fewer places for the seals to lay their pups. And that means fewer seals for the hunters and polar bears to eat, bears now threatened with extinction because the melting ice stops them from reaching their prey. And so Inuit leaders in their Arctic homeland of Nunavut, a territory so vast it's four times the size of France, fear their delicate ecosystem is dying.
SHEILA WATT-CLOUTIER: The ice will go out, I would say, the end of June, although we never know today. Sometimes it goes out earlier now because of climate change.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Sheila Watt-Cloutier is on her own hunt for justice. In a few weeks, this former social worker will file a petition at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, DC, claiming that the United States threatens her people's existence because it contributes to global warming.
SHEILA WATT-CLOUTIER: Twenty-five percent, 26 percent of the entire emissions in the world come from the United States of America. There has been no human face to this issue whatsoever, and by doing -- by connecting climate change to human rights, we are putting the human face on this debate.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Is it a publicity stunt?
SHEILA WATT-CLOUTIER: Partly. Partly, but not a stunt per se. It's a strategy.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: The polar bear's already in trouble.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: That strategy: To force public hearings on climate change.
SPEAKER: Climate change poses a monumental challenge.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Like this one held on Baffin Island last week, and Miss Watt Cloutier has a powerful ally.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: You're going to do it again. Bam, bam.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: One of America's leading Arctic scientists. His work funded largely by the U.S. government, now backing the Inuit cause.
DR. ROBERT CORELL: And there's good evidence that the rest of the world is creating change up here to which they have had no fundamental role. They don't produce very much CO2 or other greenhouse gases, but they're the recipient of the change around the world. So I do support their freedom, if you will, to express their opinion.
SHEILA WATT-CLOUTIER: We have hunters falling through the ice as a result of the ice depleting so quickly and we not being able to read or predict the conditions of the ice anymore.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: But is global warming always to blame? This hunter did indeed fall through the ice when it cracked up unexpectedly, his skidoo disappearing forever into the sea. Though when I asked him why the ice had cracked, he blamed a freak wind, not climate change.
And in the hunter's hometown of Pangnirtung, an old whaling station so remote this airstrip is the only way out, the most revered Inuit elder claims the planet is doomed anyway.
INUSIQ NASALIK(Translated): I am not so worried about global warming. Nature will look after itself. And then the world will eventually come to an end.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: And if it does get warmer, the Inuit stand to make money. This is Frobisher Bay. The Elizabethan explorer who found it mistakenly thought he'd discovered the fabled Northwest Passage to China. But if the ice melts, Frobisher's dream of new routes for shipping and commerce could come true.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: Isn't there an economic upside to global warming?
PAUL OKALIK: Well, that's hypothetical, in my opinion. There could be, but there could be a lot more losses to our culture as a result.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: So while Inuit music thrives, what else is under threat? Well, ice hockey, the number-one sport here, is feeling the heat. This pond used to freeze in October, but autumn is now so warm, that Baffin Island's annual hockey season can't begin till December. And the window for Arctic explorers is closing, too. Last month, Tom Avery led the fastest dog team ever to reach the North Pole, a journey becoming ever harder to complete.
TOM AVERY: A trip this year going from the Russian side had to be evacuated shortly before reaching the pole just because there was so much open water they couldn't actually reach it.
There's no doubt that open water is now the big threat on North Pole expeditions, and at some point in the next ten years it will be absolutely impossible to reach the North Pole having started from land.
JONATHAN RUGMAN: But Inuit hunters, scraping the ice to attract nonexistent seals, the first among us to learn what a greenhouse world really means.