with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Alaskan people tell of climate change

Mt. Denali, Alaska, photograph by Brent VanFossenCould it be that global warming is not a unique experience? That changes in the the weather have occured for millenium and we are just catching up?

While I certainly don’t believe that the current global warming trend is a “naturally” caused effect, it was fascinating to find a story from BBC News that Alaskan people tell of climate change. It seems that for the past twenty years, climatologists and ice and atmosphere scientists have been studying climate change in Alaska, and part of their studies involve pulling their heads out of the rocks and ice and studying the oral history of native Alaskans.

Barrow is the most northerly town in the United States, lying 300 miles inside the Arctic Circle. And 92-year-old Bertha Leavitt is its oldest inhabitant.

“When I was a child”, she says, “it was so much colder and the winds in winter used to be fierce.” She remembers her elders telling in their stories that the weather was going to change. And since her childhood she believes this has come true.

Barrow whaling captain Percy Nusunginya has particular reason to be alert to change. Each autumn and spring his crew ventures out on the ice to fish at air holes. He says that working out on the Arctic Sea has become very dangerous. “Nowadays ice conditions are thinner than in the 1970s and 80s. The ice used to be 20 to 30 feet thick but now it is more like 10 feet thick. But what can we do? Sometimes I feel sad but we just have to go with what we have got. Up here in the Arctic we are definitely warming up, the polar pack ice has all but gone.”

Percy says Western nations need to have scientific proof that the climate is warming rather than believing the word of the native people but he adds: “The white man, the climatologists are just learning what we knew was going on.”

Area people say there is “a real camaraderie, a real sharing between the local people and the visiting experts.”

We need to remember that history of the planet is found in many resources, not all scientific. And we need to remember before that history is gone, lost to the modern generation.

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