Opinions

Alaska’s young people can’t wait around for change

On June 24, members and alumni from Alaska Youth for Environmental Action (AYEA) and Arctic Youth Ambassador (AYA) met with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to talk about the American Jobs Plan. We came to talk about our future.

However, we find that it is increasingly difficult to imagine a future in which Alaskans enjoy the same pristine environment that we grew up with. Many of us have fond memories of fishing, but we fear the possibility of new memories is fading as increased ocean acidification threatens entire marine ecosystems. Even in our short lifetimes, we have seen landmark glaciers recede, smoke from massive forest fires cloud out our skies, lucrative fishing seasons halted, and communities that have existed since time immemorial erode into the ocean due to increasingly powerful storms and melting permafrost. We see firsthand what scientists tell us: that the Arctic is warming at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. This is why for young Alaskans like us, action on climate change cannot wait.

In our meeting with Sen. Murkowski, we relayed our worry for the future of our state and our excitement that the federal government may finally take substantial steps to combat climate change through the American Jobs Plan. Passing this bill means providing rural Alaska the funds it needs to pursue clean energy projects, such as the proposed Makushin Volcano geothermal plant outside of Dutch Harbor.

It was great to listen to Sen. Murkowski express optimism for new energy opportunities, specifically geothermal energy as part of Alaska’s future. We hope there are even more conversations moving forward to diversify our energy. As the incalculable costs of climate change in Alaska mount, diversifying our energy will not only benefit the environment, but it will benefit our economy as well.

Our group hopes that Sen. Murkowski and the rest of the U.S. Senate pass the American Jobs Plan with funds to transition to a green energy future. This would mean rural communities like Dutch Harbor can start generating power from renewable sources, which is especially important because many rural communities are cut off from larger electrical grids and still run entirely on diesel-powered generators. These renewable energy efforts hearten us because reinvestment into rural Alaska, which doesn’t have the same level of accessibility to renewable energy, means investment into us, Alaska’s youth, and investment in keeping us from leaving. Today’s youth will live through worse climate change than any generation before us, and we want to stay in a state that is at least trying to secure our future.

Some members of our group from rural Alaska were unable to call into the Zoom meeting because of their inaccessibility to reliable internet, showing how rural Alaska is being left behind. Even when the internet is fast on paper, internet access is often cost-prohibitive in practice, which Sen. Murkowski acknowledged. Investing in broadband will allow our youth to pursue more job opportunities, online education, and better ways to connect with others. This investment is how we move our state forward into the 21st century.

We have a chance right now to make real investments in our communities on a federal level. We know there will be grave consequences if we do not take action now and demand what we need to live a healthy and sustainable life.

As young people in Alaska facing an uncertain future, we aren’t willing to wait around for piecemeal changes. Our future is on the line, and we are not willing to compromise on climate for jobs. Thankfully, the American Jobs Plan doesn’t require us to compromise our climate future for our economic future. Now we have to make sure our leadership doesn’t compromise our climate either.

Macy Kenworthy is an Arctic Youth Ambassador from Anchorage. Jasmine Carter serves as Youth Civic Engagement Coordinator for the Alaska Center Education Fund.

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