You can’t live in Fairbanks for more than two years and not feel the impacts of climate change. Sleeting storms, excessive snowfall, intense forest fires, thawing permafrost, increasing humidity, high winds, sinking roads, flooding, fishing closures. For 19 years, I’ve seen these “rare incidents” become the norm, and I’ve seen and felt how these impacts threaten our homes, jobs and our ways of life here in the Interior.
I was 10 when the big 2005 Chena Hot Springs Road fire happened. I remember seeing the literal divide of a clear blue sky and thick brown smoke, wondering if we were all going to be OK. My dad’s sergeant assured me. He said of course we would be and that we were in good hands. This big of a fire rarely happens, and all the brave firefighters were going to ensure that we were going to be safe. February 2013 was when we had the first sleeting winter storm. I remember the bus swerving down College Road, the panic in the principal’s voice when she announced that we had to go home immediately, how wet and sloshy and warm it was; I wondered if we were going to be OK. My history teacher assured me. She said not to worry, we were in good hands. Storms like this never happen here and that all the snowplow drivers would make sure we were safe.
Since then, these impacts have only gotten worse. The faint smell of forest fires, now blankets of thick smoke. High winds barrel through town. Sleeting storms that used to be rare now happen every winter. Lightning happens every day for a week. Summers are longer, falls are windy, winters are warm, and breakup comes early. Seven reports of our people having fallen into the rivers from thin ice. Hundreds of our people have had to evacuate their homes from forest fires, and even more are getting sick from smoke inhalation. Our roads continue to deteriorate, our homes continue to be damaged, we struggle to find places to pile the mounds of snow, we scramble to find resources to provide for our families, we struggle to prepare for incidents when we don’t know what to expect. All these impacts of climate change have cost us millions of dollars in damages, our safety, security and livelihoods. The losses are only going to become greater, and we cannot afford to lose anymore.
Now when I ask if we’re going to be OK, we’re uncertain.
I find myself thinking about how these symptoms of climate change are impacting others. And I find myself just thinking about climate change and not enough about what our part can be in stopping it. Then I remember how resilient we are when we band together and act. How we see the problem, develop plans, and find people to fill every role. We can’t control the intensity of these impacts, but we can control how we prepare ourselves and move forward. Homer, Sitka, Juneau and Anchorage communities have made their ways in how to combat climate change. We can develop plans for our communities to combat climate change in our way. We know what the problems are, we have the people power, the ideas, we even have the resources, and we still have time to act.
It’s time to localize our solutions. It’s time to rethink and rebuild our infrastructure so we can process, produce, and provide for our own communities and withstand these storms. It’s time to work alongside our first responders and increase their capacity. It’s time to invest in green energies to power our homes when grids go down. It’s time to support our local farmers, artisans and businesses and support our own economies. We really need to think of new, innovative ways to reduce our emissions to help us adapt and prepare and build a future that will sustain us all. How we make this happen is up to us.
Climate change is not going to wait for us to think if we’ll be OK. We have to act to make sure we will be OK. How we choose to build our resiliency against climate change is in our hands. Let’s go beyond thinking and starting acting.
Interior Organizer, The Alaska Center
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