To witness first-hand the dramatic consequences of climate change, perhaps the best (or worst) place to go is Barrow, Alaska--the northernmost town in America. There, on Alaska's north coast, sea ice is thinning, permafrost is melting, river banks are eroding, warm water fish species are showing up in nets, and extreme coastal storms are forcing residents to move inland. Finding food has become a serious challenge for the indigenous Yup'ik people that have lived there for centuries. It's so bad that Smithsonian Magazine dubbed Barrow "ground zero for climate change."
Nelson Kanuk, a Barrow local, decided to do something about it. Last year, as a high school senior, he and six others teamed up to sue the state of Alaska for failing to do enough to stop climate change. The lower court dismissed the case. Now, as a freshman at University of Alaska - Fairbanks, Kanuk will have a chance to present his case before the Alaska Supreme Court.
Kanuk has a personal interest in the matter. His family home sits on a riverbank that is now steadily eroding to the tune of several feet per year--a direct result of the disappearance of permafrost.
In this video, Kanuk says, “warmer temperatures could impact our way of life out here. It would be very hard on all the families in the area. 90 percent of our diet comes from the tundra or the ocean. I want other people to know how much we’re affected by climate change and I’m asking for help with how we’re going to deal with it.”
As part of an outreach initiative, the Supreme Court hearing was held in Barrow’s high school auditorium, with an audience composed mostly of high school students. You can check out the entire thing online.
As to the plaintiffs' chances of victory, local lawyer Robert Campbell is not hopeful. "Generally, the consensus is that the court’s going to find it to be a political question and not answer it, that there’s just not a real easy solution for the court to implement,” he told the local newspaper.
“Well I’m keeping my fingers crossed," Kanuk responded. "And, hopefully that we get moving forward with forming some kind of climate reaction policy both at the state legislative level and also the federal level as well.”
(via Think Progress)
Photo credit: Witness.org