Alaska Native youth view warmer weather as the norm.
In interviews with members of four indigenous communities in Alaska’s Yukon River Basin, U.S. Geological Service researchers found differences in how older and younger generations experienced climatic change. Younger generations noticed change in their landscape, but viewed the warm winters, little snow, and other seasonal shifts as normal, “likely because that is all they have ever known,” according to the study.
Understandings of environmental change can be passed through generations. But community interviews showed a difference in how young and older generations perceived climate change. While over 50 percent of elder interviewees described statements from their parents and grandparents about the environment changing, none of the youngest interviewees brought up the environmental observations of elders.
“[T]hose younger than us, they don’t hear these stories anymore,” said one Chevak resident, from the 30-49 age group. “It’s like a fairy tale, they might know it’s real, but it doesn’t hit them as the way it got to us.”
Climate change is not an abstract future in Alaska. Physical and cultural impacts like erosion, ice melt, fish availability, and uprooted communities have already left scars. The state has seen twice the warming of the rest of the country. As one anonymous elder in Kotlik put it: “The world is getting thin.”