Until the pandemic, I did not realize how much seeing people from different parts of my life — professional associates, women’s dinner group, friends of my daughter, yoga attendees, etc. — rounds me out as a person. Without community type events, there’s a whole part of me missing. I recently discovered this at two events: one a spontaneous recreation event, the other as a volunteer at a local vaccination clinic.
The other day I went out cross-country skiing at the Mendenhall Glacier, which is about 15 miles from downtown Juneau. I’ve been visiting the Mendenhall regularly for the past 28 years. Through those years I’ve come to think of the glacier as part of my everyday life here in Juneau, a friend of sorts. Like any friend whom one visits repeatedly, the Mendenhall marks my family memories. Two decades ago, I played on the sandy moraine with my school-age children. Then, the face of the glacier stood just beyond the waterfall. Now, it’s almost a mile away and my children are grown. Today, just a tongue of ice reaches the lake. For me the rapidly shrinking glacier has been a constant, bold barometer of climate change.
Unlike the past two winters, we’re having a cold spell, so the lake is safe to travel on. It’s now possible to reach the front of the lake by foot or ski. My husband, daughter and son-in-law skied ahead in bright, white-sparkle sunshine. As we approached the front of the glacier, we headed toward where — just two years ago — a large ice cave used to be. This year, we found only a remnant, a wave of teal-colored ice topped by a fresh dusting of snow. I entered the ice arch to touch the smooth, sculpted ice. I heard the creaks and groans of tons of ice pressing down. Knowing the geology of glaciers, I imagined I was hearing the force that carves mountains. I silently said:
“Hang on, relief is on the way. It’s too soon to say if it will be enough but the U.S. is back in the game as a climate champion. Even Sen. Lisa Murkowski got clean energy legislation passed. And on a personal note, since the last time I was here, I bought an electric car. I also installed an air source heat pump that draws on clean energy.”
I looked up into the opening and saw my daughter and son-in-law framed by the arch and the icicles on the rim. They are the next generation, inheriting this climate-challenged Earth.
My alone time in the ice arch lasted only five minutes as a family of four arrived. Much of Juneau seemed to be headed the same way. After all, it was a sunny Saturday and photos had been posted online for two days. Looking at the line of hikers and skiers fanning across the expanse of the lake, I realized it’s a downright community event. Back at the parking area, I ran into my yoga teacher, and it felt like old times.
Next, I headed to town to volunteer for the vaccination clinic at the Juneau convention center. It’s time for the second shot for seniors. As I checked in folks for their second shot at Centennial Hall, I realized I was back at a community event. I saw lots of familiar faces. When I saw neighbors smiling underneath their masks and saying, “This is so exciting; there is light at the end of the tunnel,” I knew I was sharing in my community’s outlook for good health. I could feel their joy and be a fuller person.
This morning, I got to share the common joy of sunlit nature. Although feeling blessed to have two community events in one day, the parallels between them nag at me. Is there light at the end of the tunnel for addressing the climate pandemic — using the word broadly? After all, there is no vaccine for planet Earth.
As humanity, dependent on clean air and water, sustainable food, healthy communities and habitats, we must develop the equivalent vaccine for the climate crisis. The urgency for a robust, rapid response is no less when addressing the climate crisis. Just as we rapidly developed, tested and are distributing two vaccines to fight the pandemic, we need to act with similar vigor and partnership for planet Earth.
Fortunately, the United Nations has provided a blueprint for doing so in their recently released report, “Making Peace with Nature.” The Associated Press explained the report: “Unlike past U.N. reports that focused on one issue and avoided telling leaders action to take, this U.N. Environment Programme report combines three intertwined environment crises and tells the world what’s got to change.” The entwined challenges are loss of biodiversity, pollution emergencies and the climate. The scientists have laid it out. Now, for the sake of our children and future generations, we need to roll up our sleeves one more time and take the shot of change.
Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than 22 years’ experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.
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