It was the end of the arctic summer when Charlie first showed me the cracks in the tundra. Charlie is a hunter in the Arctic Village of Alaska, a Gwich’in settlement so remote that it can only be reached by plane. I am a policy analyst for The Episcopal Church, and was visiting Charlie’s village to reconnect with the Gwich’in community, a native people with whom The Episcopal Church has enjoyed a longstanding relationship. Like the rest of his village, Charlie depends on caribou meat to survive, and he offered to take me to his hunting ground: the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Charlie showed me what the scientific community considers visible effects of climate change. From his hunting boat, he indicated a wide swath of collapsed riverbank, tumbled spruce trees tangled in a sink hole. Once on the tundra, he pointed to large, ominous cracks in the land, two inches wide and spreading across the plain.
Charlie simply said: “The permafrost is melting.”
Next, he showed me forests of willows, a tree species unknown to grow in the Refuge before now.
“The caribou’s horns catch in the willow’s branches”, he said. “They can’t get through, and are changing their migration path away from our hunting grounds.”
“If the caribou don’t come through,” I asked, “How will you eat this winter?”
Charlie shrugged. He did not know.
Climate change is one of the great moral issues of our time, and scientific evidence points to carbon pollution as a driving force behind it. According to researchers at Stanford University, if unchecked, carbon pollution could lead to 21,000 climate change related deaths. We already see these tragedies occurring around the world: displacing populations, sickening children, and rendering species and cultures nearly extinct.
Inspired by the growing body of evidence demonstrating that a transition to a low-carbon society is both feasible and economical, and equipped with the knowledge that carbon plants contribute to 40% of carbon pollution causing climate change, The Episcopal Church supports carbon pollution protections for existing power plants. We thank you for your attention to this issue and urge swift action to finalize the Clean Power Plan Proposed Rule, emphasizing a shift to renewable energy rather than a transition to lower carbon fossil fuels.
We ask this on behalf of our congregations on the coastlines who are still recovering from devastating hurricanes, for those on the plains and deserts who suffer from harsher summers and winters every year, and for all communities who bear the undue burden of climate change. Finally, we ask this on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Arctic, so that come winter, Charlie and his village can survive.