Community perspective

Local youths lead a growing Alaska climate justice movement

Young people around Alaska have been at the forefront of recent climate-change actions: Over 300 people in Fairbanks joined 4 million people globally as part of the youth climate strikes, and 16 young Alaskans are suing the state for contributing to climate change. Young people are mobilizing at unprecedented scales to fight for our futures.

Here in Fairbanks, we have drafted 17 demands, one for each of the months we have left to take decisive political steps to prevent the serious damage of our planet due to climate change.

Please join us at the Justice for the People, Justice for the Earth Rally from noon to 1 p.m. Thursday outside the Carlson Center.

• My name is Nanieezh Peter. I am a sophomore at West Valley High School. I walked out Sept. 20 to raise awareness within our community on climate change. That feeling of solidarity when so many students and community members joined me showed me that my community would have my back and join youths in this fight. It is empowering to me as a young person to see all the strikes happening around the globe and know that my actions can change the world. I strike for our planet and our future.

Here are some of the demands of our local Alaska Youth for Environmental Action chapter: Protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, implement co-management of all indigenous lands, reduce Golden Valley Electric Association’s carbon emissions, unify Railbelt utilities to increase the number of homes powered by renewable energy, add climate change to school curriculum, make schools more energy efficient, stop using fossil fuels, add young people to Fairbanks’ climate change task force, transition to 100% clean energy, and achieve justice for the people most impacted by the climate crisis.

• My name is JoAnn Donovan. I am a senior at North Pole High School. I believe, as an Alaskan, that I have to do my part to fight against the idea that climate change is not happening and that there is nothing we can do about it. People will have to open their eyes and see that they can do something about it. For too long I kept a blind eye toward what I personally am contributing as well. This is why I have joined this movement. I want to see a change in others as well as myself.

• My name is Cassidy Austin, and I am a 17-year-old from McCarthy. I feel passionately about defending my state and its natural resources. Growing up observing the changes taking place in the Copper River watershed has motivated me to protect our waterways and landscapes by speaking up and getting involved in the public process. Although I am young and cannot vote yet, I know it is important for people my age to speak out because this is our planet and our future.

We mean business and the climate crisis cannot wait. We feel it is important to take action now, because our futures depend upon it. We are uniquely positioned in Alaska to follow indigenous leadership and implement climate change solutions. As Alaskans, we see firsthand the drastic impacts of climate change on our villages and communities.

• My name is Shaina Atcherian. I’m 15 years old and from Chevak. Climate change is affecting my community. Climate change is affecting all the communities in Alaska. Some of the impacts on my community are that the fish are dying and our winters are getting shorter and affecting migration patterns of our birds. We are catching fewer fish because of the amount of heat we are getting in the summer. We are receiving less snow during the winter, which is making it harder to travel or get the fish that stay during the wintertime. Now, when the berries come out and the sun dries them up, not leaving enough berries for the community to have throughout the winter.

We, and the many other youths across Alaska, know that standing up for our futures is an urgent manner. This youth-led pressure will continue to grow until policy changes are implemented. We ask our elected officials and Alaskans of all ages to support us by taking bold climate action. We urge the Dunleavy administration to reinstate the Climate Action Leadership Team and encourage Senator Murkowski to support the 100% Clean Energy Economy Bill. There are clear actions people in power can take now, and if they don’t, our generation will suffer most.

This column was submitted by Margi Dashevsky, AYEA program coordinator. AYEA is a program of the Alaska Center Education Fund.

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