October 14, 2009
I grew up in Alaska and have lived here most of my life. It's so hard to watch what's happening here on the forefront of climate change. I have many stories, so I'll share a few here on this blog action day.
Last year we were on the north coast of Alaska in Kaktovik, near the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. There were polar bears everywhere. They knew it was time for whaling when they could get the scraps. My good friend and Inupiat Elder explained that they were looking too skinny. There was one with a cub and she felt so sorry for her, we went back to her house and got some old walrus meat. We took it outside of the village to the last place we saw her and put it in the grass for her to find. We didn't see her, but it was gone the next day. They also explained that it used to be common for the polar bears to have 2 cubs, now 2 cubs are rare. Since there were so many polar bears, I asked why they weren't hunting them. I was surprised at the answer: the scientists are studying them so much, they are filled with too many chemicals. Sad all the way around.
My husband's parents built a cabin on a remote lake long before land claims were settled in Alaska, so it's been there a while. Each year the lakewater inches a little closer to the cabin. A couple summers ago we boated over to the village to ask what they thought. They had 2 different suggestions for the flooding. The glaciers that feed the river are melting so fast, more and more glacial silt is blocking the exit to the lake. The other issue is that since the permafrost is melting, the lake is getting deeper and deeper. When 20 years ago there were islands in the lake, now they are gone. The trees stand as bare pole reminders of a long gone forest, now flooded.
As a teen I used to deliver newspapers in Fairbanks. One night it was very, very cold. I got dressed with layers and layers and just as I reached for the door knob, the radio announced that it was too cold for the papers to be delivered that night. I groaned. I was already dressed. So, I donned my paper bag and started out on my 3 mile route. About 1/2 way through, an elderly lady invited me in to warm up. She handed me a $10 tip when I handed her the newspaper. I couldn't believe it. When I started refusing the money, she protested. She said, "I just looked at my thermometer and it's 72 below zero. You shouldn't be out in weather like this." I told her I had already been dressed in all my coats and snow pants. She smiled and told me to be careful on the rest of my route. I don't remember it ever getting to -72 again, but it was often below -40 every winter for weeks at a time. The other thing I remember is that daylight didn't really make a difference in the temperature. It was a steady cold. As I grew older and had my own children, it was rare that it stayed below -40 for more than a week. And during the daylight, the temperature now warms significantly. Experts have said you can notice global warming by the difference in the range of temperatures these days, as well as the warmer weather. I'm noticing.
Each morning when I get up and look out the window, I see the remnants of a glacier, the Eagle Glacier. It's all but gone. We visited three other glaciers up close and personal this year, paying tribute to their deaths, feeling helpless and sad as we bare witness.
This is the time. There is a ground swell of interest of all of us taking notice. Leaders around the world MUST act now to cut CO2 emissions. Sometimes "we the people" can't act in a timely manner. We need leaders to make a change happen fast. I hope that will be in Copenhagen in December. The time is now.