At Copenhagen, Native Alaskans Urge Action
By LARS KROLDRUP
The New York Times
Native Alaskan women prepare salmon for smoking. Alaska’s indigenous people say small societies in the state’s northern region are being forced to move due to climate change.
Alaska’s indigenous people are seeing erosion, rising waters and melting permafrost – and their representatives at this week’s climate meetings in Copenhagen are raising the alarm.
“The rising temperatures have an huge effect on our lives, and we are now in the middle of a big crisis,” said Faith Gemmill, a Fairbanks-based outreach coordinator from Redoil, an organization that advocates for indigenous people.
Alaska is “ground zero of US energy policy,” Ms. Gemmill said, and natives feel left out when important decisions are made on energy policy.
“We will not sacrifice our lives to support the enormous energy consumption in the U.S.,” she said. “We are the victims of the quick energy fix.”
The organization had hoped to meet President Barack Obama at the Copenhagen conference or at least someone from his staff, but the rescheduling of his trip made that even less likely. Nonetheless, she remains optimistic.
“I have to have hope, and I think it is realistic to have some influence on the politicians,” said Ms. Gemmill, who is herself a native Alaskan. “We would like to meet the Obama administration, and tell them what is really happening in our society. We want a commitment from our government, and we want the administration to think about who feels the consequences of their policy.”
Ms. Gemmill said that many small societies in northern Alaska are being forced to move due to climate change. And there is no one but themselves to pay for it – a situation she considers unacceptable.
“That bill is not being paid by the oil companies, the government or the state of Alaska,” she said. “But these are the ones who in reality should pay.”