The following press release was submitted by Alaskan Quaker, David Bantz, detailing a rally of concerned voices organised to appeal to citizens, politicians and researchers for action on climate change.
Read the full story below:
FAIRBANKS RALLY DEMANDS CLIMATE JUSTICE AND CLEAN ENERGY
Speakers Call on Alaska’s Elected Leaders for Action
Fairbanks, Alaska—On Tuesday, March 15, the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition (FCAC) hosted a testimonial rally calling for a transition to a clean energy economy. Around 100 people convened in Constitution Park on the UAF Campus to hear a diverse array of speakers from Fairbanks and other parts of Alaska, who stood in front a banner proclaiming, “ALASKANS DEMAND CLIMATE JUSTICE AND CLEAN ENERGY.” The rally was held during the 2016 Arctic Science Summit Week (ASSW), an international gathering of Arctic scientists and policymakers, held at UAF, to coordinate and collaborate in all areas of Arctic science and policy. The rally, which was held at the center of the ASSW conference area, communicated the diversity of Alaskan voices appealing to citizens, political leaders, and researchers for action on climate change. Speakers specifically called on Alaska’s elected leaders, both statewide and nationally, to transition Alaska to a clean energy economy.
According to organizers, the rally was catalyzed by the growing urgency of climate change impacts to Alaskan communities as the state warms at nearly twice the rate of the lower 48 states. “In Alaska and throughout the Arctic, we know that our communities are disproportionately on the front lines of climate change with worsening fires and permafrost melt,” said Tristan Glowa, an event organizer, UAF student and Fairbanks resident. “We have a stake in solving the climate crisis and we know that we can do our part by investing in a transition towards renewable energy and a sustainable economy.”
Esau Sinnok, a young man from Shishmaref, told the crowd about the impacts of climate-driven coastal erosion threatening his home. “Our community’s voice needs to be heard so that we can move as a community instead of relocating individually,” he said, “because once we lose our land, we will lose our culture and we will lose our identity as Iñupiaq Eskimo people.”
Bessie Odom, Vice President of the NAACP Youth Council in Anchorage, emphasized the connection of all Alaskans with people and communities who are on the front lines of climate change: “What happens to one individual, one family, one community, happens to us all. Where one is suffering, it is only natural to be sympathetic but we must take this response much further and put action with it.”
Speakers Jan Bronson and Ritchie Musick cast climate change as a moral issue in addition to its social and ecological dimensions. “Faith communities in Alaska are coming together to protect the climate,” said Bronson. “We recognize the moral and spiritual imperative to stand with vulnerable communities and protect the great Earth systems which sustain us all.”
“Climate change is illuminating the injustices and the disparities that we face as indigenous people,” noted Princess Johnson, Netsaii Gwich’in and resident of Fairbanks. “We need to restore balance, and climate change is the catalyst that can bring us together.”
Throughout the rally, speakers and organizers pointed to the need for a transition to a clean energy economy as a solution to climate change. “A ‘Just Transition’ means shifting our state towards a clean energy economy through a fair and equitable plan for everyone, especially our workforce,” Johnson said. “As scientists, tribal members, as mothers and fathers, as citizens of the North, we have a responsibility to act on climate change now. We have an opportunity to lead the world in making a Just Transition.” Johnson underscored the importance of popular pressure in demanding that leaders rise to this occasion: “We need to challenge our elected leaders to push for the shift to clean energy. This is how we will move to diversify our economy and protect critical ecosystems.”
Jessica Girard, FCAC Organizer and Program Director for the Northern Alaska Environmental Center, stressed the need to speak up against offshore drilling in Alaska’s Arctic in order to keep climate change in line with what science says is required for a habitable planet: “We need to leave fossil fuel energy in the past and invest in the future with renewable energies like wind and solar,” she said. Echoing Girard’s call, event emcees Enei Begaye and Cathy Walling led the crowd in chants of “Circumpolar Wind and Solar!”
The rally sounded these local calls for a Just Transition to the officials gathered for the conference. UA Regent and Borough Assembly member John Davies spoke at the rally and gave his support to the movement, describing a variety of tools Alaska can use to address the climate crisis. More than 10 UAF researchers and scientists signed an open letter urging ASSW leaders and policymakers enact policies reflecting what climate science says is necessary. “Scientists understand better than anyone that we must adjust our policies to the Earth–atmospheric physics aren’t going to adjust to us humans,” said FCAC organizer Odin Miller, who coordinated and helped draft the letter. FCAC and its allies renewed their commitment to work for climate justice and a fair and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.
The Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition represents a broad constituency of local grassroots groups and concerned citizens. The group currently includes members from trade unions, Alaska Natives, conservationists, students, scientists, farmers, and multiple faith groups. The coalition formed out of the need to amplify voices throughout Fairbanks who demand a fair and equitable transition to a clean energy economy.