September 5, 2018

At our home in Washington the summer seemed normal, as far as we could tell.  Yes, we started to see smoke in the area from an unusually large number of forest fires.  Then there was news of an unusual hurricane that hit Hawaii.  But the mountains, the lakes and bays and the rivers all seemed fairly normal, at least to us.  But what about more sensitive environments?

We were told by an Alaskan glaciologist that the heat emanated by the 7 billion humans on earth each day is the equivalent of a 3 Hiroshima bombs each day.  When you count the energy used by these 7 billion humans, mostly those in developed countries, the number goes up to several hundred Hiroshimas each day.

“Splendor” is just one of the words best used to describe the beauty of nature.  What are the words we should (and will) use to describe nature’s decay and degradation?  Disaster?

Alaska has changed.  We had the sunniest summer in the Southeast in anyone’s memory.  Locals complained of the heat… even to the point of wishing the rains back.  We hired a skiff to take us and 4 youth participants upriver to the area we visited 2 years ago.  Shakes Lake looks the same, full of floating and grounded glacier bits… some the size of a house.  But then as we near the face of the glacier we see it has changed…  Could the face really have receded that much in 2 years?  Instead of a 50 foot wall of ice it is now 10-20 feet above the surface of the lake.

The delta looks the same as does the lower river but US and Canadian monitors report very few salmon coming upstream.  Kids talked about their fisherman fathers and how the wild king salmon season was closed due to expected low numbers, though hatchery fish still return to the bays where they were released.  The sport fishing season for king salmon was also closed.  And upriver an enormous forest fire around Telegraph Creek still burned.  The silver salmon, in their multitudes were still expected… but no one was able to catch more than a few to take home.

Later in the week we all went to Anan bear observatory to observe the bears’ annual feeding on returning pink salmon.  There were a few black bears and one brown bear and the tourists present were thrilled to watch them fishing.  We asked the Forest Service staff about trends and were told there were only a fraction of the usual numbers of pink salmon in the Anan Creek… and fewer bears.

In this land so closely connected to, and so dependent on, the environment everyone is talking about the changes.  Alaska is strongly Republican, but few folks here see these as just part of a cycle.  The climate and the environment have changed.

What can we do to mitigate this change?  Can it be reversed?  How will local families, dependent on fishing both for income and subsistence, deal with this change?  Which persons and what populations will be affected first?  Most severely?

We met with a representative of the Tlingit tribe and board member of the Wrangell Cooperative Association, and spoke with others actively involved with the community.  Yes, they are active in promoting the awareness, culture and traditions of the tribe but we ask what they can do to promote education of the issues raised by environmental change.  How can indigenous and white people act to deal with the current and future change?  Is there a special role for indigenous people in promoting sustainability?  What local actions can help?  What forums are available to advocate more broadly?  What does it mean to have changes in these more sensitive environments?

The Rights and Opportunities Foundation is seeking concerned community members and youth in all parts of the world to help answer these questions.  Please write to let us know how we might work collaboratively.

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