OPINION: Leadership team takes crucial role in future of state climate-change policy
Tourists and Alaskans alike know that my hometown, Homer, sits at the end of the Kenai Peninsula, overlooking Kachemak Bay. But they may not be familiar with a small cove across the Bay that's been in my family since the 1940s.
I have grown up in this magical place, drinking fresh spring water, swimming in the lagoon and walking across the only pure sand beach in the area. I've spent many afternoons on the buoy swing that hangs from a great birch tree, next to the crick that I drank from so many times. I have caught red and king salmon from the shore and placed it on the grill in 15 minutes - and in my mouth in 25. I have sat in the family graveyard that sits on a hill, and looked over our little oasis of life, while sitting next to my grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins who have passed.
Growing up in this special place leaves me wondering about the future. Will my children be able to go to the places I have growing up? Will they be able to feel the same joy that I have been so lucky to have in my backyard? Will they be able to cast off the shore and catch a beautiful fish? Without bold policy action on climate, these opportunities may not exist for future Alaskans. As an invested young Alaskan, I commend Governor Bill Walker's administration recent establishment of an Alaska Climate Change Strategy and the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team. This team will explore mitigation, adaptation, research and response to climate in our state, and will recommend policy directly to the governor.
As I write, climate change is eroding our shorelines, warming our glaciers, rivers, and oceans, and intensifying storms that take lives and cost our communities millions. I have been active with various organizations trying to educate and inform both state and federal politicians since I was 14 years old. As a freshman in high school, I joined a group called Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, a youth-led program where I met other youth who wanted to organize to effect change together for our communities and the environment that we will soon inherit from our parents and the generations before us.
In 2014, approximately 20 AYEA teens and I traveled to Juneau to ask Governor Walker to reinstate the Climate Change Task Force created under Governor Palin, which was later dissolved under Gov. Sean Parnell. After three years of inaction from the governor following our meeting, my peers and I were finally cheered this week by the Administration's announcement about the new Climate Leadership Team. As plans and team members develop, I urge the governor and the Climate Leadership Team to think long-term. Not only must we start looking at ways to make our state more fiscally stable, but also ways to stay environmentally sustainable.
In Alaska, we are very dependent on natural resources, including oil, gas, minerals, and fish. All of these resources support my family and many others across the state. When I say that we need to make changes to the way we think about climate, I do not mean we need stop all oil exploration or abandon mining operations completely. I simply mean that we need to be smart with how we choose to extract and develop these resources. Development that introduces more CO2 emissions into our atmosphere contributes to the issues we're starting to see, further impacting my future.
At the Elders and Youth Conference and Alaska Federation of Natives last month, Walker gave an opening speech that showed real evolution since I had met with him in 2015 with other youth. He openly accepted the idea of climate change, ocean acidification and the need to address villages that are rapidly losing land to erosion. I appreciate these words. I know, too, that a speech does not represent true action. That is why I was encouraged to learn from Walker that he is establishing Alaska Climate Change Strategy and the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team.
This Leadership Team's role will be crucial to enacting policy of lasting value and importance for Alaska youth — the politicians and activists of today and tomorrow. I look forward to learning about the policies and mitigation strategy the Leadership Team will introduce to address climate change and protect future generations.