When I was 16, I left Alaska for the first time. I traveled completely across the United States to attend a college-prep program with one of my classmates. We were the only two students from Alaska. This experience is the one that really jump-started the development of my ability to share my experiences and advocate for my land and culture. In the years since then, I’ve continued to share my story as it’s become more relevant to others.
The truth is, and anyone from Alaska will tell you this, the land around us is changing rapidly and changing our everyday lives. Within the past 6 years, our seasons have also changed pretty dramatically, as our winters are getting somewhat shorter and less consistent. Our permafrost is also melting, shifting the land, and messing with some valuable infrastructure. As glacier melt continues to accelerate, the sea levels continue to rise and more coasts are being threatened. Ocean acidification and the impact of rising ocean temperatures is also posing a huge threat to our ecosystems and food sources.
All these things have a massive impact on life here in Alaska. Many rural Alaskans live off of the land for food. It’s vital, considering the lack of job availability in many communities and high grocery costs. It also has a big impact on our culture, as subsistence hunting is such a big part of it and many values are taught to young people through hunting and gathering resources from the land.
Currently, the United States holds the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, a body made up of international governments to address issues regarding the Arctic. I think that most people in the US often forget that we are an Arctic country and don’t know much, if anything, about Alaska or the Arctic. Throughout the past two years, the government has made a lot of effort in creating awareness about Arctic issues, a topic that’s becoming more popular among politicians. The Arctic Youth Ambassadors program was created to give young Alaskans a voice in all these discussions and to educate non-Arctic citizens about our experiences and challenges.
Despite all the attention and politics, there is still not enough effort going into finding solutions for the situation we are facing. Rural Arctic communities still receive little to no funding for infrastructure and little support when it comes to climate issues. Currently, there are a few small villages, like Shishmaref, that are being drastically threatened by coastal erosion and rising sea levels. Within the next few decades, Shishmaref will be washed away and the Inupiaq residents will be forced to relocate, leaving their homes and many traditional aspects of our culture behind.
I think the thing that most people don’t realize is that what is happening with Shishmaref will soon be happening everywhere else as well. With the Arctic warming at twice the rate of any other region in the world, what happens here sets a major precedent to what happens elsewhere. And what is happening is the rate of change in these areas is accelerating. These changes will happen more rapidly, and within the next century, other coastal cities in the rest of the United States will start facing similar threats.
Even though it’s still appears to be a big controversy, a majority of scientists have agreed that humans have contributed to the warming planet. How much man-made carbon emissions have contributed to that change is another debate. Either way, with the state of the planet currently, we cannot afford to continue to add fuel to this fire. We need to continue moving towards renewable energy sources by investing in them and divesting from the oil and gas industries. It’s also imperative that we reduce our waste in order to save our safe, natural food resources that will continue to be threatened as ocean acidification becomes a larger problem.
I will always talk about my home and I will always do what I can to protect it. Unfortunately, I cannot do this all by myself, nor solely with the twenty-one other Arctic Youth Ambassadors. It’s going to take a major global effort amongst individuals everywhere to create a change that will make a difference. So as an individual, I will continue to advocate for such sustainable changes with my knowledge and experiences to educate a broader audience and hope that they will be inspired enough to do their part. Let’s do something big, together.
Macy is a US Arctic Youth Ambassador and university student. She is from Kotzebue, Alaska, and has spent a large portion of her 20 years at her family camp in Sisualik, AK where she has grown in her culture, as well as in her love of the outdoors and the ocean.