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> 2 unrelated questions
post Jun 27 2005, 11:53 PM
Post #1


Hi Tom!

1. As I know you know, yesterday's New York Times travel section on Alaska talked about melting ice and tourism in Alaska. It also said (or I inferred) that there is a divide among Alaskans about whether or not this warming is about human induced global warming or whether it is just a natural warming cycle that our planet undergoes over time. So, after spending time in Alaska (although mostly with scientists studying global warming...) what is your take on how Alaskans feel? Do many feel it is a result of humans or are there those who still think it is because of a natural warming trend? Generalizations, I know...

Seriously, the two questions are unrelated:

2. In Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (you had to know I was going to ask a question like this), most of the Alaskans interviewed felt that Chris was crazy to go out "into the wild" of Alaska and that he was completely unprepared and therefore lacked a total respect for the land and the wild that is Alaska. They had very little sympathy for the fact that he ultimately died in that wilderness. When we read this in English 10, my students debated this issue at great length -- was he totally disrespectful or was he just naive? They decided he was young and naive, unprepared, but not disrespectful. SO, how do Alaskans feel about folks doing things like this? What constitutes a respect for the land? Do many Alaskans fear this wilderness or do they just feel strongly about being very, very prepared? Or, since you probably have not encountered many native Alaskans other than your science buddies, what is your take after going on two hikes, going as far north as possible, and living out there "in the wild"? Have I asked too many questions??????????

ps--you're going to LOVE the bright orange color I painted the living room, kitchen, and front porch biggrin.gif
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post Jun 28 2005, 04:43 PM
Post #2

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Thanks for the question. And I love orange so I think it will make fore a great kitchen.

As for your first question I think that not only Alaskans but people all over our country are torn as to what is happening with the climate. For example if you look at these two statements from the article,

"I've lived here 22 years, and the changes I've seen are tremendous," said Mr. Page, the Seward kayaking guide. "The summers are much warmer and sunnier. We see things like white-sided dolphins, which don't normally appear in these waters. It certainly has not hurt business. But on a planetary level, I'm concerned."


"I'm 64 years old so I'm not too worried it's all going to melt in my time," said Charlie Clements, who runs the Blue Heron B & B, in Gustavus, just outside Glacier Bay National Park. "But I have noticed a lot of changes. We aren't getting as much snow. And the summers, they've been really warm."

I think that most people recognize that there are some pretty big changes going on. Some are more concerned than others. I think that from a scientific point of view one cannot choose whether they believe in global warming or not. When the data is analyzed it points towards warming and climate change. So when this issue is debated it is important to look at the science of it and not revert to unfounded statements. Contrary to popular belief scientists do not have an agenda and then try to make their science fit it. Donie herself said that she actually thought that the plants growing larger in the Arctic might be a negative feed back loop (cooling rather than warming) but when the science was done it turned out that it wasn't the case.

So Alaska is like everywhere where everyone has an opinion on everything. What makes Alaska different right now is some of the changes of warmer climate are starting to change people's day to day reality. Whether it is tourism or the village of Shishmaref starting to wash into the ocean--the effects of warmer temperatures seem to have only begun here. The scientists I have worked with are committed to their studies and to finding out more about what is happening. When they see something like the thermokarst they investigate it and analyze it. Even when they have already published the results of a certain study they continue to work on it trying to understand more.

I dont' know about the Jon Krakauer one. From the one man that I spoke with about it, Brian Horner--the survival training expert, I think that clear headed Alaskans were sort of befuddled by the turn of events in "Into the Wild." I believe that Brian would say that he was just wildly unprepared. I know it would have gone against McCandless's ethos but a 2 day Alaskan survival course would have taught him so much, including the information about the toxic plant that he did or did not ingest. After trying to walk across tundra for long periods of time, I can tell you that trying to do it during the melt without at least knee high rubber boots would be 1)hard, 2)miserable.

Don't get me wrong I liked a lot of McCandless's style. Having been a young man of that age at one point I understand much of what was going through his mind. But he would not have to have broken with his detachment from society to prepare a little more for the trip. He did go to the library and look at the book on plants so why could he not also have gotten a map? As Krakauer states in his book a simple map, even one that was 20 years old could have shown him where to go to find a place to cross that river that eventually trapped him in.

And while I am going off on this why did he not learn a little about Alaska before he started wandering around. I've been to the place he chose to walk through and I bet it makes for excellent snow dog mushing in the winter. In the summer it is wet, filled with ominous black spruce and tons of bugs. I know one of his plans was to maybe walk to a coast--why not the Arctic? Walking north and through the Brooks Range would have given him 500 miles or so and lots of challenges from the land.

It is wrong of me to try to rethink the thoughts of someone who has already made their decisions. I'm sure if someone found me on the side of mountain someday they could come along and say, "Well why didn't he go that way?" My guess is that McCandless did have respect for the land and he knew what it could do to him. He did not have enough preparedness to overcome the obstacles that eventually killed him. He was unprepared in that he didn't realize how much he needed to respect the environment--he simply didn't know enough about the area to have the sufficient level of respect if that makes any sense.

Let's talk more about this when I'm home--it is fun to wonder about.

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