Guest editorial by Carly Dennis and Gabe Canfield.
Carly was born and raised in Eagle River, and is currently studying politics at Pitzer College in Los Angeles. Gabe is from Ketchikan, and is currently interning at the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council. She will graduate Dartmouth this year. Both authors are alumnae of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action. Submit your guest posts to [email protected].
Last month, students across the world spoke out on the most decisive and dire issue of our time: climate change. Catalyzed by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, young people began to organize climate strikes, marching in the streets and calling on our leaders to take action before it is too late.
Alaska’s youth are front and center in these conversations. Across the state, high school students rallied. Between Anchorage, Fairbanks, Homer, Soldotna, Palmer, Juneau, and Sitka, more than 1,000 Alaskans participated in strikes to demand climate justice. This month, 16 young Alaskans went to court to sue the State of Alaska on the grounds that our government policies promoting fossil fuel extraction are violating our rights.
Climate change is a global problem, but it does not affect everyone equally. Alaska faces dramatically worse effects of climate change sooner than any other part of the nation. According to the National Climate Assessment, “annual average temperatures have increased more than twice as fast as the global average.” No Alaskan can deny that our home is changing; from low salmon runs to increasing wildfires, to the melting of previously permanent snow and ice. This summer, I went to the mountains to pick blueberries, and found shrivelled shells rather than the quintessential staple I have eaten every year of my life. We rely on the land—the plants and animals—for subsistence. These things make us who we are, and we are losing them.
Young Alaskans see this. No matter how quickly we reduce emissions on a global scale, these grim realities are already upon us. Alaska is experiencing, and will continue to experience, terrible effects of climate change that will hurt our land and our people alike.
So when Alaskan youth strike in solidarity with our peers from across the globe, we do so not without substantial amounts of resignation. Our leaders at every level have decided to accept climate catastrophe, and as young Alaskans, we are suffering for it. We march to express our outrage at this fact, and we march for young people across the world who may yet avoid the worst of this crisis. Bill McKibben has said, “we must accept the fact that the world we have known is going to change in hideous and damaging ways—and we must nonetheless work as hard as we can to limit that damage, to keep it this side of complete catastrophe, to save as many options for our descendants as are still possible.” It’s never too late to reduce our carbon emissions—but we also need to accept that the Alaska we know and love will never be the same again.
With this in mind, we need to seriously prepare my generation for the changes that are coming. We need to talk about adaptation.
What will our new economy look like when our fisheries are impacted and agriculture becomes more viable? What jobs should we anticipate? How will our subsistence change, how will food security be impacted and how will our national security be impacted? In many ways, the question of adaptation is a question of survival. But above all, it is a question of identity. We are Alaskans, and Alaska is our source of pride and identity. How will we hold onto ourselves as the land we love slowly slips away?
These questions don’t all have answers yet. But if not everyone is serious about climate inaction, then we all need to be at least as serious about climate adaptation. U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, our senior senator and Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, rejects substantial policies to reduce emissions; she’s adamantly advocated for climate inaction. She has left my generation to inherit grave consequences of her decisions.
It’s difficult to have these conversations without losing hope. The realities are stark. We take comfort in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words: “up again, old heart! — it seems to say, — there is victory yet for all justice; and the true romance which the world exists to realize, will be the transformation of genius into practical power.” Our generation of Alaskans will be older and more worn-out than any age can express by the time we graduate from University. We already know this. We strike because of these facts, and in spite of them. The people in power have consistently lost the battle between expediency and justice, and we worry it may be too late to change the course of our land, our home.
We must prepare for this fact and deny it all at once.