Alarm in Alaska

| August 28, 2015 | 0 Comments

Grade 6 teacher, Jill Howdyshell, reports from a small Yup’ik fishing village in Bristol Bay in south-western Alaska that “climate change is having a real and direct impact on this community now”.

She doesn’t need the Silver Springs, Maryland-based American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s proclamation: “The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of anywhere else on Earth.”

Last year, in addition to a lack of snow, rising temperatures meant no berry crop: harvesting salmonberries and blackberries has been an intergenerational activity for indigenous Alaskans for thousands of years.

For berries to ripen, and for sustainable life to continue here, the vast tundra needs to go into ‘permafrost’ mode for several months.

Now, as the permafrost gradually disappears from the planet completely, tons of carbon that were captured beneath the frozen ground are being released into the atmosphere – an example of a ‘feedback loop’ that will contribute to the planet warming up.

What worries Howdyshell the most is that “the school and curriculum continue to be almost completely silent on the issue [of ] climate change”.

Many Yup’ik inhabitants have no disaster management plan should warming temperatures and melting icebergs accelerate rising sea levels, causing storms that could destroy shore-hugging settlements.

After successive waves of colonisation, Howdyshell believes that “climate change is the next and perhaps the largest assault on Alaskan indigenous culture. It’s forcing the loss of communities’ abilities to practice centuries-old subsistence living.” She cites an example: winter moose hunting in the mountains rarely happens now, because instead of snow, there’s mud.

Says Howdyshell: “In our Grade 6 US history textbook, climate change is not mentioned once. I worry about the mental health effects on this generation of children and their children unless we start to communicate, heal and involve them in the fight to keep carbon in the ground.”

Category: Spring 2015

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