City Climate Corner

Youth episode - Anchorage Alaska

Episode Summary

We interview 16 year old Emily Taylor of Anchorage and Bristol Bay about her story and the impacts of climate change on her, her family, and Alaska.

Episode Notes

We interview 16 year old Emily Taylor of Anchorage and Bristol Bay about her story and the impacts of climate change on her, her family, and Alaska. 

If you haven't already, make sure to check out our Anchorage episode with four amazing women leaders.


Episode Transcription

Episode intro

Larry Kraft  00:02

I'm Larry Kraft.

Abby Finis  00:04

And I'm Abby Finis. This is City Climate Corner where we explore how small- and mid-size cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future.

Abby Finis  00:16

Hey, Larry! So today we are kicking off our very first youth episode. And we're talking to Emily Taylor in Alaska. Can you tell us a little bit about Emily?

Larry Kraft  00:28

Yeah. So to find Emily, I started out doing what many people do, a Google search for "youth climate in Anchorage". And an essay, a really phenomenal essay she wrote a year or two ago popped up, and I read it and said, "Oh, I really want to track this individual down". So I got connected to her through the Alaska youth environmental organization up there. And she was great. Right? It's really interesting to hear her connection to Alaska.

Abby Finis  01:02

Yeah. I just think it's really cool how city after city that we reach out to, there's always Youth Leadership happening. And you know, Emily's one of the leaders in Alaska, and it was really cool to hear her story and talk about how climate is impacting her family, her community, and Alaska at large.

Larry Kraft  01:25

Yeah, right. I mean, the fact that her family has been in commercial fishing, Native Heritage, for five generations. And then also, I was struck by the way she talks about the transition that's needed, the just transition, and the economy there. And, so lots of wisdom in young people, so let's listen.

Abby Finis  01:49

Let's do it.


Larry Kraft  01:52

Okay, well, we're here with Emily Taylor of Anchorage, Alaska. Emily, would you introduce yourself and tell us a bit about yourself?

Emily Taylor  02:01

Hi, my name is Emily Taylor. I am 16 years old, and I am a junior in high school here in Anchorage, Alaska. I'm Alaska Native, and my family's from the Bristol Bay area as well as Unalakleet, which both are in rural Alaska. I lived in Alaska my whole life. And I'm a member of a group called Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, We're a youth-driven climate action group, here in Alaska. I've actually lived in Anchorage my entire life. In the summertime, I go back to Bristol Bay with my family, and we actually commercial fish there for the summer.

Larry Kraft  02:34

Why is the issue of climate change and climate justice important to you?

Emily Taylor  02:41

Well, I think it's an issue that really just affects anyone, no matter who you are. It's just an all-encompassing thing. And climate justice is especially so important, because to me, climate justice means that like we are helping those most affected by climate change, even if they're the least responsible You know, a lot of people of color are disproportionately affected by the effects of climate change, even though they aren't really as responsible for those. And I think, making sure that all of our communities are cared for and that we take care of everyone. That's really important to me, especially here in Alaska.

Larry Kraft  03:19

Why is it important for young people to be involved in this issue?

Emily Taylor  03:25

We're the ones who are going to really feel the effects of climate change as we get older, like, it really is our future. If you think about those who are causing the largest effects of climate change, it's those those CEOs of those 100 companies who are responsible for like 70% of the emissions. Or the politicians who are putting off climate regulation talks in legislative settings. Those people really aren't going to be here to feel the real catastrophic effects of climate change. But, you know, for young people, it's going to be a really big part of our lives. So I think it's important that we can try as hard as we can to mitigate those effects now.

Abby Finis  04:09

So there are a number of reasons that we wanted to look at Alaska, and Anchorage. And part of that being that Alaska is kind of at the forefront of accelerated climate change and the impacts being felt there, as well as the Alaska Native communities being most impacted by some of these dramatic changes. Can you talk a little bit about what you're seeing in Alaska?

Emily Taylor  04:38

Yeah, so the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere. So, Alaska definitely is feeling the effects of climate change a lot heavier than somewhere maybe down south. And so just like starting off simple, our winters have changed a lot. There's a lot less snow in the wintertime. When I was a little kid I remember like, really, really young. I remember it was always snow Halloween or November 1, like it was always going to snow. Last year, I don't think we had snow until early December. So that's just like a really simple even if, even if it's kind of funny, even those people who are like climate deniers, they're like, "Wow, so weird, like, there's no snow yet". And it's like, "yeah, exactly". And then also who it really affects is coastline communities farther up north, who these communities are people who, you know, subsistence hunt for a lot of their food resources have a pretty, you know, their biggest carbon impact is probably just flying in and out of their village. But a lot of these communities are having to be relocated because sea ice is forming a lot later in the year. And so those, this Arctic sea ice protects these communities from winter storms. And when that sea ice is not there, but the storm still come, it just erodes away the coastline of these communities. So a lot of these communities are having to be relocated. And this costs millions and millions of dollars, which these communities obviously don't have. And you know, might have to relocate from a place that has been their home for years, or generations, or just somewhere you've lived your whole life, you have to move. So that's one of the ways Alaska Native Peoples are really feeling the effects. And also with subsistence hunting and subsistence fishing, that's a big part of native lifestyles up north. And just like in rural communities, in general, since grocery stores are so expensive, those foods have to come a long way. So you know, you got gallons of milk upwards of like $10-$15 in some places, or more. And so a lot of food resources come from subsistence hunting, subsistence fishing, maybe berry picking in the tundra, and a lot of fish runs are actually coming back a lot smaller than usual or sea-bound species are going farther north because the water isn't the right temperature for them anymore. So they might go north to find colder water, which is a like weird thing to look at. Same with animal migration patterns of, you know, animals like moose, caribou, etc. Might not be in the same spot that they used to be so that affects Alaska Native People. And then same with sea ice not only protects people from from storms, but also can be used to hunt on. And so it used to be like, oh, like "the ice is gonna freeze like right now and like we can go hunting next week". But now it's kind of like a "Yeah, I guess it froze. I guess we should go now because like, Who knows?" So I could go on forever. But there's a lot of there's a lot of effects for Alaska Native peoples as far as as climate change, especially since we are seeing the effects twice as fast.

Abby Finis  08:19

I want to switch now to thinking about the city of Anchorage, specifically, how have you been involved in climate work in your community? And how did you get involved? 

Emily Taylor  08:34

I'll start with what I've done and how I got involved was kind of this run around story that's kind of funny. I've done a lot of work with AYEA. AYEA is a state, Alaska Youth for Environmental Action is our acronym. We are a statewide network of youth. And we have a statewide campaign every year two. So this year, our campaign is climate justice. And then we have a focus as well with racial justice, since those are kind of intertwined. And I am a part of the Anchorage Chapter, but I've I've done a lot with the statewide network. I know a lot of people in all parts of Alaska. In Anchorage, before COVID, I did a lot of work with the climate strikes. Obviously, that's a worldwide movement. Our last in-person climate strike was actually just over a year ago, I had a super big part in like the planning and the message of the strike. So that one was really important to me, and we did it on Black Friday. And the kind of heart of our message was first indigenous rights as well as like focusing on how because you know, it had just been Thanksgiving and focusing on how the origination of that holiday and like how it's with like indigenous people and how that's a little bit problematic. Sometimes we focused on just like indigenous rights And then the second focus of our strike since it was Black Friday was over-consumption since, you know, kind of a day of mindless buying, which has a lot of impact on on the environment. And actually, it was funny we did - I planned it - so we did speeches at one part of our downtown of the city. And then we actually marched around, the mall, the main mall, in downtown. And then we went to this little coffee shop, and we had the opportunity for people to write letters to their legislators. 

The Pebble Mine

Emily Taylor  10:36

So that was one of the big things that I have done in Anchorage but how I got involved, like I said, My family's from Bristol Bay, and we commercial fish in the summer. A big hot-topic, Bristol Bay issue is the Pebble Mine, which we've been hearing a lot about since that permit just got denied by the Army Corps of Engineers. But the Pebble Mine fight has been going on for like as long as I've been alive. I think something like the Pebble Mine even though it's not something you think about like climate change. I do think it's a climate justice issue because a mine like Pebble right on indigenous lands, I don't think it would quite happen in the same way if it was near like a populated suburbs area with a lot of rich people in it, because they have like resources to fight. That's happened throughout Alaska is there's been a few mines near, like indigenous villages where the the mine waste leaked, and you're like "this would never happen if this was somewhere else". 

Emily Taylor  11:41

Let's see. So I'm a junior right now. So it was spring my freshman year. It was April 2019. And my aunt has been super involved with the fight against Pebble that's one of her main jobs. I think it was my 15th birthday, she calls me up and she's like, "hey, so you know, there's this thing in Anchorage like for the draft environmental impact statement of the of the Pebble Mine, you can testify for the Army Corps of Engineers". I had never really done public speaking before. That sounded really intimidating. And I was like, "ooh, I don't know if I want to do that". I was like, "I'll think about it". And then she told my grandpa that I might do it. And my Native Grandpa, and he was and then he was like "Emily, her aunt told me that you might testify to these people like that would be so great". And I was like, "Well, I have to, now I got to do it". Anyway, but I wrote this. I wrote this long speech to testify to the Army Corps of Engineers. Super heartfelt. I like sobbed at the end. Then after that I spoke at a rally and people seem to really respond to my testimony. And after that, I kind of wanted to find more ways  to get involved with climate work. 

Emily Taylor  13:03

And I had also been like, looking into issues like climate change, fossil fuels. And I actually found AYEA through a Google search. And they seem to encompass a lot of the things that I wanted to work for. And AYEA has two youth summits every year which bring together youth from all around the state. And I applied for that, I got in, and I went and I met some of my like absolute best friends. And yeah, I've been working with AI ever since. And yeah, so like I've done climate strike work. I was actually the summer fellow for AYEA in Anchorage. It was basically like, an internship. They had a an Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Utqiagvik , which is the farthest north, otherwise known as Barrow.  We worked together to advance the AYEA campaign and stuff. So that was something big that I did. But yeah.

Anchorage situation

Abby Finis  14:06

Cities are really stepping up and how critical do you see that for Anchorage to continue to push on climate action?

Emily Taylor  14:13

I think it's super important because we are, we are the biggest city in the state. And I think it's a good way. I mean, we're not the capital city, but we are we are the biggest city by quite a bit. I think we have I think we have I think half the state's population lives in Anchorage. Yeah, our state population is somewhere around 700 to 800,000 and about 300 to 350,000 people in Anchorage. And I think climate change is always such a tricky issue in Alaska because it's kind of an oxymoron to me a little bit just because we feel the effects of climate change so much more. But since we're such an oil dependent state, that's like our entire Economy people that kind of like, "I don't see it".

Emily Taylor  15:03

Because, yeah, a lot of which I think it's so important for us to move away from that oil dependent economy in a just way. Because oil is not going to be here forever. And, you know, the climate is changing really quickly. So I think it's important that that is taken care of. And also, what I mean, like, by a just way is I think when people hear about wanting to transition away from the use of fossil fuels in our state's economy, they talk about jobs and how people will lose their jobs. But like, it's not my goal that everyone who works in the oil industry loses their job like, that would be awful. And not good for our economy. But I think it's important that we find a way for those people who work in the oil industry, to be able to transition to cleaner energy jobs, and not be like, we don't want to leave anyone behind. We don't want to just be like, "you have no job anymore". Because that would be awful.

Larry Kraft  16:15

You mentioned that your family has been involved in commercial fishing for generations, I think, right?

Emily Taylor  16:20

Five generations, actually. That's the thing that people, people kind of wow at. Yeah. so my ancestors have been in Bristol Bay for a long time. But commercially, my family has been fishing in Bristol Bay for five generations. So my great, great grandparents were commercial fishermen. And so I have a fishing permit, because that's kind of how commercial fishing works, you have to be permitted. And my permit came from my great, great grandma, is passed through the family, and I have it now. So yeah, fifth generation commercial fishermen.

Larry Kraft  17:03

Wow. So what kind of changes have you seen, your family seen, in fishing over time?

Emily Taylor  17:11

So we've actually been really lucky because Bristol Bay has so far been not as affected by climate change as a lot of the other fisheries throughout Alaska. A lot of the other fisheries have been hit a lot harder. There are some fisheries where they don't get to fish at all one year, which is like awful. Because for a lot of people, that's their income. But definitely one of the big things I've noticed is weather. So 2019 summertime, it was the nicest weather that I've ever seen in Bristol Bay ever, like consecutively for that long. Because it was just nice the whole year. We never really had a rough day, like it was never that cold. Never super rainy. And then we would have like 80 degree flat calm days, which is like crazy. It was so warm that I got like a sun rash on my face. Because, well, I mean, you're out there in an aluminum boat in the middle of the ocean.

Larry Kraft  18:13

What are your goals? Now as you go forward,

Emily Taylor  18:17

I just want to see climate change addressed and I hope to see indigenous people at the forefront of that because we're the ones being affected by it the most. You know, indigenous people in rural communities aren't contributing to climate change that much, but they're really paying the price. They're having to relocate their homes, change their hunting patterns. And that's just really detrimental.

Larry Kraft  18:47

Well, thank you. This was great!

Abby Finis  18:54

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able to, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode’s guests on our web page if you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  19:17

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me Larry Kraft, edited by me. Music by

Abby Finis  19:23

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard!

Larry Kraft  19:26

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.