A high school trip to islands under threat from climate change inspired a three-day conference this weekend in Skagway.
About a dozen Skagway students traveled to the Marshall Islands over spring break. They met with residents, including the president, to learn about how the Pacific islands are being impacted by a warming climate. Rising sea levels have already caused thousands of islanders to migrate to the U.S. and other countries.
Skagway teacher Kent Fielding led the trip and helped students plan the upcoming Climate Change Conference. He hopes Skagway residents will be willing to face the topic of climate change, even though it can be a disheartening.
“You have to keep a positive and open mind that humans can actually do something to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Fielding said. “Or else it just becomes dark and depressing and you probably want to stay home and veg out of “Game of Thrones” or something.”
Residents who attend the conference will learn about how Marshallese people are being affected by climate change. They’ll hear about the islands from the Skagway students and from a well-known Marshallese artist.
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is the keynote speaker. She is a Marshallese poet who travels the world to talk about her nation’s struggle against climate change. She recited a poem at the UN Climate Leaders Summit in 2014. The poem was addressed to her infant child.
Jetnil-Kijiner is speaking Friday night at 8:30 in the Skagway School.
The Skagway students will give their presentation earlier that night, at 6.
A handful of climate change-related movies will be shown at the conference, including one about the Alaskan village of Kivalina. The documentary is focused on Kivalina’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil and other oil companies over climate change damage. The suit was ultimately dismissed.
Kivalina, like the Marshall Islands, is threatened by rising sea levels and coastal erosion. The village hopes to entirely relocate.
The conference lineup also includes live music, a zombie fun run, and a basketball tournament.
Teacher Fielding says the Skagway students plan to issue a couple calls to action for the local community.
“They are having a petition to ask Mayor [Monica] Carlson to sign the mayor climate agreement, which would have Skagway follow the Paris Agreement,” Fielding said. “But also like expanding our recycling, because we do not recycle plastic or tin.”
President Trump announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris Agreement. But some governors and mayors around the country rebuked that decision and said they will continue to pursue the agreement’s climate change mitigation goals.
The conference is happening at the same time as Skagway’s Fall Festival. Other events over the weekend include a puppet show from Haines-based Geppetto’s Junkyard and an artisan market.
For a schedule of events, visit skagway.com/events.