Clean energy can lessen Native suffering
August 15, 2010
Dr. George P. Charles editorial in the Anchorage Daily News: As an Alaska Native veteran, I want to see our country expand our clean energy sources. It will help our planet and our state, it will help Alaska’s Native peoples and it will help our national defense.
I am 69 years old. In my lifetime I have seen many changes connected to global warming. A big part of where I grew up has permafrost. The small village where my mother was born has sunk in and is now part of a large lake. I saw the old village of Kasigluk begin sinking in my short lifetime. The island where my maternal grandparents lived is mostly gone. A new Kasigluk was created almost a mile downriver from the old village. A new school, federally funded houses, post office and airport had to be built at a high cost.
The warming has affected the fall white fish runs on the Johnson River not far from Bethel. People there rarely fish for them anymore. The black fish creeks are almost nonexistent because of the changing river channels due to warming. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has been invaded by beaver, which dam up the many small tundra creeks, disrupting the black fish runs.
Newtok, where my maternal grandmother’s family is from, and the village of Shishmaref need to be relocated at great cost due to erosion. Our elders link the erosion to changing weather due to warming. The melting of the permafrost also increases the cost of constructing homes and public buildings.
In rural villages, the cost of fuel to heat homes is high. So is the cost of electricity, which comes from expensive diesel fuel.
Back in the early 1950s, a few places in my region had wind generators. I remember one that Johnny Samuelson had in Nunapitchuk. He used a series of batteries that stored the wind-generated electricity to power light bulbs in his home and store. I often wondered why public institutions such as schools did not take advantage of wind generators. Later in Bethel in the 1950s the city built a diesel power plant. It was noisy, and the diesel engine spewed foul-smelling smoke. Many empty 55-gallon fuel drums would litter the tundra villages.
Today’s high energy prices raise the price of everything else shipped into the villages. With the high costs and lack of jobs, we are seeing a migration of people leaving rural villages for regional centers. Even older people are leaving. They have fixed incomes, so living in their traditional villages becomes too costly. This diaspora causes cultural disruption. Those younger people left behind in the villages have fewer culturally competent elders to guide them. Read more