The New York Times published a recent article titled “A Wrenching Choice for Alaska Towns in the Path of Climate Change”.
The article centered on the fate of the Inupiat—a group that has lived on Alaska’s western coast for centuries, and yet now stands to watch their village sink beneath the sea.
Climate change is ripping apart the world’s ecosystems, but perhaps nowhere have its effects been as extreme as in the Artic. By most estimates, the state of Alaska is warming at twice the rate as the rest of the United States.
What will it take to save these people? What will it take to save all of us?
We are called to completely remodel our agricultural system, and to reduce the nation’s population of livestock. We are called to transition to renewable energy, to recycle in earnest, to pass strict chemical regulation, and to enforce our pollution control measures.
As individuals we can grow and support local food, encourage the installation of green energy devices (solar panels, etc.) on homes and businesses, divest from fossil fuels, and utilize and push for public transportation.
We must once again remember that we belong to the Earth. We must change our lives.
Increasingly, I think that this will require speaking out against injustice, and protesting “business as normal”.
Perhaps, this shift has already begun.
It was particularly powerful and mobilizing to read about the Inupiat and the dark future that they face, given the current national news.
I’ve been reading posts and articles about the protest at Standing Rock for months now. I’ve been watching videos posted by friends, reading the blogs of those who have been there, and receiving the messages from those who are still there.
I have been helping in any way that I can remotely—organizing events, raising funds for the Sacred Stone Camp, divesting my money from Wells Fargo, educating others about what is happening and how they can assist the protestors, sending winter clothes, and writing letters to everyone from the Army Corps of Engineers to Energy Transfers itself (the pipeline’s owner) to voice my opposition to the project.
This work makes me feel empowered and part of something much bigger than myself. It’s the kind of journey that once begun, there is no turning back.
The mother of a woman I know at Standing Rocking wrote her a letter.
It was a beautiful note about love and a better world. At the end, she signed it, “Stay warm, my warrior”.
Reading those words, something inside me cracked for a moment. I cried. I cried until the floor around me was wet.
We do not face climate change refugees, raging fires, dying seas, disappearing species in some future moment. We are living this horrific reality right now.
Just this month Gatlinburg, Tennessee saw the death of seven people and damage to nearly 300 buildings in a storm of fierce wildfires. Families and farmers in the Northeast went months without water. The Mississippi River flooded its banks near my hometown in Iowa yet again. Species die-offs, dying trees, melting sea ice, rising ocean waters and devalued East coast homes, tropical storm damage, crop failure—this is the world we now currently live in. Ecosystem change is accelerating, and we are beginning to feel the effects with greater and greater intensity.
“For how long?”, I wonder sometimes.
If we do not change, now, in this moment, how long can this Earth hold out? How long before everything as we know it collapses inward?
What world do we live in, that grandmothers and children must camp in the freezing snow in a cry for Mother Earth at Standing Rock? Why has it fallen upon these people to protest against what our greed has done? Where are the people who are supposed to be leading us?
What world do we live in that veterans must relive past nightmares to protect those praying for clean water, and the end of the desecration of our land?
What have we all allowed to happen? What has become of us?
I am tired.
I am tired of opening the paper to stories of partisan quarrels and deranged political tweets.
I am tired of writing letters to the government that go unanswered, and likely unread.
I am tired of signing petitions likely to be ignored.
I am tired of the mass media giving a voice to ugly words and hateful speech, while keeping the beauty and strength of so many people silent. Of keeping the voices of the warriors everywhere from oil clean-up crews, to organizations planting trees, to recycling enterprises, to small-scale permaculture farmers, to scientists, to protestors, to Native elders, uncovered and unheard.
Enough, enough, enough. I whisper.
I’ve come to believe that we have no choice but to physically stand up. To take up space. To raise our voices. To demand something different. To be something different. To be heard. And to call inspiringly to others so that they, too, may join.
Axel Jackson, member of the village council in the threatened Alaskan town of Shaktoolik told the New York Times, “I wish they’d come and spend one day in one of our storms [said of politicians in Washington]…the federal government spends billions on wars in foreign countries, but they treat us like we’re a third world country”.
Jackson speaks of searing injustice—injustice that we now accept as normal behavior. This is the acknowledged prioritization within our government and amongst our people.
But these are the issues we face, and that will only deepen as long as we remain silent. There are millions of people across this country—all of us in fact—who stand to lose against climate change. This is no longer a partisan issue. This was never a partisan issue. And this is no longer an environmentalist problem. It is a national and global emergency that demands full attention—from the government, from the media, and from us as people.
There is Anishinaabe legend that says that when the world has been devastated, the people must choose between materialism or spirituality. The seventh generation of people must choose between the green or black road. If they choose the green, they will light the “Eighth and Final Fire”, the fire of peace, love, and brotherhood. If they choose the wrong road, then suffering and death will be brought to all of the Earth’s people.
We stand at that crossroads now, I believe.
It’s time to walk the right path.