A Yukon Kuskokwim Delta teen travelled to Juneau over his spring break to be part of the annual Alaska Youth for Environmental Action Civics and Conservation Summit. He and 21 others took their activism straight to the capitol building to ask Governor Bill Walker to create a climate change task force.
Joseph Phillips entered the program with one goal: help his community battle climate change. It wasn’t until just last year that he realized that this was an issue, but he says winters are getting warmer and in the summer there aren’t enough berries to go around. He says it’s hurting his people’s way of life.
“It has too big of an impact in the state of Alaska because we hunt off subsistence and it’s part of our tradition and culture,” said Phillips.
The 15-year-old is a member of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, or AYEA, a program sponsored by the Alaska Center for the Environment. He lives in Chuathbaluk, about 10 miles upriver from Aniak. Before the summit he had never been to the state’s capital. He and teammates from around 11 communities have been working on several climate change projects together over the past school year. They’ve gathered over a thousand signatures on a petition asking the Governor to create a climate change task force made up of a diverse group of Western and traditional experts.
AYEA’s annual Civics and Conservation Summit brings together Alaska’s youth to learn about and take action on environmental issues. The students are chosen based on their passion and desire to speak up for their communities. They learn about the legislative process, research controversial bills, and study the art of communication and lobbying.
Megan McBride is the youth engagement director for AYEA. She says that the summit has three goals.
“The first is to develop a strong network of youth leaders for Alaska. Our second is to build teens’ knowledge and skills. Our final objective for the summit is for the teens to have an opportunity to take action,” said McBride.
McBride says youth are critical in the fight to stop climate change.
“Young people are so powerful and creative and I really believe that they are able to see the future clearly… We’re working to empower them with the tools they need to advocate for the future they want,” McBride explained.
The work doesn’t stop at the summit, though. Phillips and the other teens will be continuing to talk with Governor Walker’s office. They are hopeful that he will give their proposal serious consideration.
Governor Walker said via email that he was impressed with the teens’ passion and knowledge of environmental issues.
“Certainly, their concerns are shared by my administration. Given our meeting, I am taking into consideration their request to reconvene the climate change task force,” said Governor Walker.
Phillips and four other students also spoke to Representative Charisse Millett, the sponsor of House Joint Resolution 6, which deals with the government’s financial responsibility for contamination of Native land. Together the group suggested the government reimburse the medical expenses of those whose health had been damaged by toxic material. The bill now includes a similar request to the federal government. The resolution has passed in the state legislature and next goes to the governor.
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