An alarming report from Alaska and Northwest Canada, ground zero for climate change.
Disproportionate temperature increases in the north, relative to the lower latitudes, make the region a perfect laboratory for witnessing the effects of global warming and for designing strategies to mitigate or adapt to altered weather patterns. According to longtime Alaska resident and veteran author Lord (Creative Writing/Univ. of Alaska, Anchorage; Rock, Water, Wild: An Alaskan Life, 2009, etc.), climate-related changes are happening now, radically transforming landscapes and lives. Although she deftly weaves pertinent scientific and political information throughout, her account’s power stems from her on-site observations, lyrical descriptions of the land and sea and sensitive interviews of local officials and natives whose insight and experience humanize an otherwise vast and arcane subject. Lord reports from her home base, Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, where the wetlands are shrinking and large-scale modifications in both fresh water and marine conditions threaten the salmon-dependent economy; from Canada’s Mackenzie River Valley and Fort Yukon, Alaska, where industrial development endangers the boreal forest, unlocking a massive carbon storehouse; from Barter Island, on the frozen Beaufort Sea, where thawing permafrost and diminished sea ice expose a vulnerable coastline and where “climate change tourism” now dominates the economy; from Shishmaref Island, where the Inupiaq have already voted to relocate because of erosion and flooding; and from Bethel, Alaska, where village elders near the Bering Sea gather to advise fishery managers and to consider the effects of ocean acidification, “climate change’s evil twin.” In each of these hot spots, residents already cope with climate-induced changes likely to reach the rest of us later. They’re already making hard choices about land and water use, fire prevention and species conservation, as well as about combating climate change while still respecting traditional cultures. Amid an unprecedented challenge, the remote north, writes Lord, is a “proving ground,” set to reveal either “how creative and responsible humans can be,” or how feckless.
An eloquent and important dispatch.