Alaskans invited to tell Congress what climate change means for them

Alaskans invited to tell Congress what climate change means for them

Two children fish on the shore of Baird Inlet on July 20, 2020 in Mertarvik, Alaska. Residents of Newtok are slowly moving to Mertarvik as coastal erosion makes Newtok unsafe. (Photo by Katie Basile/KYUK)

Across Southeast Alaska, increased rainfall, variable snowfall, warming water, and ocean acidification are profoundly changing the environment.

In the Alaska chapter of the upcoming National Climate Assessment, a team of scientists, educators, and community leaders from across the state ask what these changes mean for people. Through January 27, they are inviting Alaskans to help answer this question by submitting feedback on a draft of the assessment.

Alyssa Quintyne, a community organizer at the Alaska Center and one of the co-authors on the Alaska chapter, said it’s one way to draw attention to the everyday impacts of climate change.

“It’s an opportunity for us ordinary people to essentially tell the story of what’s happening in our own state, other states and Congress. So it’s a pretty big deal,” she said.

The National Climate Assessment is a Congressional commissioned research report organized by the US Global Change Research Program. It doesn’t mandate specific actions, but Quintyne says it will help people working on climate solutions.

“Legislators looking at this review and thinking, ‘Oh, wow, I didn’t know this was happening in my seat. What are actions I could possibly take?’ Researchers who say, “Oh, hey, there’s a gap in something we’re not studying.” So we can develop some real solutions and services,” she said.

Henry Huntington, an Ocean Conservancy researcher and lead author of the report, said this version of the assessment is more human-centric than ever.

“Our mission, our mission, has changed a bit to focus more on the community side. And what does that mean for people? Instead of delving into the details of the biophysical system, what does that mean for the people of Alaska,” he said.

The draft will undergo a peer-review process that will see researchers help refine and add to the climate assessment, but Huntington hopes this time around a more diverse group of Alaskans will submit their feedback.

“What public comment can do that academic scrutiny cannot do is tell us, are we making sense? Are we targeting a wider audience?” he said. “We want this to be a report that has some relevance and speaks to people it affects through their livelihood, recreation and interests.”

According to Huntington, the draft chapter goes beyond the natural environment and includes discussions about COVID-19, housing discrimination, health care, crisis response and even internet access.

He says it’s important to highlight these emerging issues because climate change doesn’t happen in isolation. He hopes the assessment will show how the changing environment could exacerbate existing social vulnerabilities and inequalities.

“It’s this idea that climate change is happening in a broader social context that’s already there. And it will add even more stress to what we are already experiencing,” he said.

Quintyne hopes the comments submitted this month will help make climate assessment the most useful resource it can be.

“We do it for education, we do it for awareness, but we also do it for empowerment,” she said. “It’s how people can make the best informed decisions going forward, whether they’re someone like me, whether they’re the President, whether they’re a fisherman in the Yukon.”

Alaskans who wish to review the draft of submitted comments can do so online. Comments are due by January 27 at 8 p.m

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