By the time we’re in our 50s, the Arctic will see ice-free summers. We may be seeing our kids off to college, settled into our careers, beginning to need reading glasses for the first time. And the climate in which we live will be vastly different than the climate lived in by our parents, grandparents and our ancestors. Climate change isn’t some hypothetical boogeyman to us — it’s our future and, as we see increasingly intense wildfire seasons, ocean acidification, and warming winters, our present.
Alaska Native peoples, as the first stewards of this land, were some of the first to notice the effects of climate change on our most valuable resources. We see the impact on whales, seals, and polar bears across the North Slope, forests throughout the Interior, and salmon runs throughout the coastal south. In every corner of Alaska, it’s evident that coastal erosion causes entire villages to relocate, greenhouse gases acidify oceans and threaten fish stock collapses, and Arctic warming is three times faster than the global average. Alaskan ways of life, as well as industries from seafood to tourism, stand to suffer. Even though not all our ancestors lived on these lands, our descendants might — and we owe it to them and ourselves to ensure this incredible place we all call home survives to see them.
A problem of this scale requires meaningful solutions, but we can only move to the future by not forgetting the past. This means actively valuing knowledge from frontline Indigenous communities as we build solutions to environmental change. Over thousands of years, Alaska Native peoples have developed and passed down intergenerational knowledge through their languages, cultural practices and lived observations of the North. While Indigenous communities are often among those most affected each day by the changing climate, they also hold the knowledge that can help address and mitigate some of our world’s most pressing problems. Current climate disruption is rooted in inequality, with rural communities and marginalized peoples bearing the brunt of its effects. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Working for change — in climate policy, inequality, or broader injustices — doesn’t always mean marching or writing letters. What can be just as powerful is building community to share our stories — stories that connect us to the lands we share. Those communal stories can lead to collective change, with connection among local communities enabling big shifts in meaningful policy. While resiliency can be achieved through individual actions to a certain extent, that can only get us so far, and we must pursue state-level and national policies at the same time.
As individuals, as a state, and as a country — there are also opportunities here. We have the chance to be really intentional in our community-based solutions, to develop an infrastructure growth system less reliant on extraction, and to embrace problems instead of rejecting them simply because we lack an easy solution. Public perception is shifting, and the world is pushing for a clean, modern energy system. Alaska has the potential to lead the world in that shift, but only if we come together, no matter our political identities, because while these actions may be political, they are not ideological.
When it comes to climate change, innovation and adaptation go hand in hand, and we need our political leaders to become visionaries alongside us. This means elected leaders on both sides of the aisle must act together with Alaskan communities, tribal leaders and our most marginalized neighbors in order to have any chance of effectively tackling climate change. There will be no simple or quick technical solution to this — it will require a cultural shift in order to reach solutions, and a cultural shift won’t come smoothly with only half of the government on board. In order to unleash the powers of prosperity, ingenuity, and progress, we need buy-in from actors across the political landscape — because we all have something to lose.
As young Alaskans and aspiring leaders in this place we call home, we ask you to join us in this effort to raise awareness and push for bipartisan, cross-class and cross-cultural climate solutions for our sake as well as the future generations’.
The co-authors recently participated in an online dialogue as part of The Nature Conservancy in Alaska’s Climate Opportunities Assessment — an ongoing effort in which Alaskan leaders and stakeholder groups are engaging on climate, the opportunities that arise due to climate, bipartisan solutions, and the long-term health of the Last Frontier. Watch the dialogue between the co-authors on the Nature Conservancy’s website.
Eben Hopson is the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation Science lead logistics media creator, a former Arctic Youth Ambassador, and a traditional foods provider and whaler from Utqiaģvik. Carly Dennis currently studies Politics at Pitzer College in Los Angeles, works for the Sitka Conservation Society, and is grateful for growing up on Dena’ina lands in Eagle River. Michaela Stith is the debut author of a travel memoir entitled “Welp: Climate Change and Arctic Identities, as well as the coordinator for Polar Points and Polar Perspectives, two publications of the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute. Nathan Baring is a lifelong Alaskan and climate advocate, dedicated to a future career diversifying the state’s economy for the vitality of Alaska’s next generation. A graduate of West Valley High School, Nathan resides in Fairbanks and attends college in Minnesota.
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