Monday, August 27, 2012

The Last Frontier

Alaskas license plates say The Last Frontier. In many ways, I think people here in the lower 48 see that as true. We go to alaska to see the wilderness, for the fresh air, the glaciers that are disappearing, the moose and bears that just roam around like the own the place (wait, they do... right?). 

If you've ever seen a beehive presentation on the True Cost of Coal, where we take a moment to explain one of our favorite little jokes, then this idea of the last frontier may be familiar in a different context. 
{punch line: once we've taken and destroyed all we've got here... then we'll just have to move on the the final frontier-- SPPPACCCEEE. Ya know... because of manifest destiny we have a god given right to do so. get it? a conestoga wagon on a rocket ship!}

Well- when we (the royal we- the beehive) were invited to talk about coal in alaska, we were into it. Obviously. What an adventure! It turns out, it's a whole lot more than that. As we started to get a grip on whats what in Alaska and extraction, we soon found out- they have more than oil and natural gas. They've got a lot of coal. Actually, Alaska has 18% of the worlds coal reserves. That is a ton of coal! 

I didn't know Alaska had coal... and it seems like a big reason for that, is until now, it mostly got to hang out in the ground. Just sitting there, cleaning the water and being millions of years old. But why is that? The coal in alaska is pretty low grade coal, which means that for the most part we can't actually burn in here in the United States 'cause it would pollute our air more than our government has deemed acceptable. SWEET! Let that stuff stay in the ground. 

Not so easy. Turns out, we live in a global economy. Other countries don't have the same standards as we do, and they can burn it. And as you maybe suspect, the demand for coal (and all other fossil fuels) is up across the globe. So that precious ancient coal that's in alaska: its now up for grabs and the coal companies are trying to move in fast to gobble it up. In the Mat-Su valley (which is an area thousands of people live, to be clear), there are 3 large strip mines proposed. We're talking 20,000 acres. 

{this image is of the Matanuska River, where mining is proposed. Taken from the website of our friends from the Castle Mountain Coalition. Check out their site for more information about whats up in the area when it comes to coal}

20,000 acres of the last frontier is headed down a finite and dangerous road of coal extraction. Folks in the area just simply ain't gonna take it. As a piece to the puzzel of organizing in their area- they brought us- to tell the cautionary tale of what coal mining looks like and how is destroys communities. Coal is running out, our mines here in the lower 48 are bigger and bigger, but there just ain't enough. Coal companies aren't going to just stop mining, they'll keep on going. All the way to the last frontier...

unless we stop 'em. 


But First! I had a little time with friends from Ohio... just hanging out... in Alaska.  
{First day in Alaska- i headed out with Sonia, Amy, and Tony to a cute little dry cabin on Lake Christiansen- not far from Denali National Park. Paddle boat was the only way to get there (or by foot, in the winter months... icy)}

{the cabin was a lovely and welcoming place to huddle in for a night.}

{11 pm-ish sunset from the porch}

{a wood-fired sauna made this lovely lake swimmable. for short stints at a time... the water was epically clear}

{dishes. they exist everywhere- even in a cabin hidden away in alaska}

{crossing a bridge on our little walk outside of Talkeetna... below us two rivers converged and you could see the difference in the water. One was gray with glacial silt, the other much clearer}


{adventuring out during a lunch break on our hike}

{sonia exploring the land of dinosaurs, we assume this is where they live at any rate}

 And then- I ran off and left my Ohio (and california) friends to have their own adventures.  And adventures they had! You can check out their photos, and a few more from my time with them on facebok. i joined up with the other bees as we all got our feet in the same place. It was a day or two of rushing around- spending an awful lot of time in the strip malls of anchorage doing silly things like making copies and all the non-fun things about being a bee. yuck!

{during my time in alaska- i had to keep up on other work- including the communications work I've recently started doing with the Alliance for Appalachia.  Agent brought me some rasberries from the path outside...}

{talking a short walk along the bike path outside of anchorage. First time I got to see the pacific ocean!}

{Talking to passer-bys at Anchorage First Friday}

{Folk singer and community organizer, Si Kahn, wrapped up our workshop at Salmonstock with a good ol' union song from appalachia}

{heading up the epic bluff to get to our new friends house}

{the bluff was pretty dang steep... ropes were pretty much all the way up to help folks climb. They were mega helpful on the way down}

{view from the top. This photo, like many on here, is from our facebook album that many of us on the trip contributed to. You can see more photos of our trip here!}

{the house was just amazing! Using all sorts of natural building techniques, the house was built over about 10 years. The basement? The most mega home brewing operation I've ever seen}

{smelling out the wort- a goldenseal, fireweed, and yarrow brew}

{checking out the addition the the house- a modified straw bale- soon to be a bedroom}

{morning air. mountains, ocean, trees galore. Just outside Homer a few miles.}

{kirby was such a lovely and amazing host to us while in alaska. he really helped us gain our grounding on whats happening in the area. This is his house that he built}

{watermelon berries! they grow all over the place up there. while in alaska i got to eat strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, current, and these new little guys... berries! all time favorite food.}

{getting ready to go see a protected salmon run that would surely be impacted by the coal mines in the area}

{kirby showing us a salmon run that would be impacted by the coal mining}

{overlooking the valley- brandon showing us some of the places coal strip mining is proposed}

{we went up to hatchers pass to look at an old gold mine- independence mine- it was so neat and surreal. Some of the buildings were like this one, while other had been restored and were in use for the park. All nestled in the beautiful tundra of a mountainside. Striking.}

{a fun presentation in Palmer, where we got to meet a lot of important and powerful people. In this shot are some pretty rad folks including Lisa- a woman who shared lots of stories with us about what its like to be an indigenous person in the midst of coal, but also of active colonization. Carly- who brought us to Alaska. And that little fella who said that reading the story from the drawings is 'just easy.' duh.}

{we did a backyard presentation at yet another amazing homestead- this time in Chickaloon- a community that has been really active in the fight against mining.. they're on the frontline for sure. So inspiring}

Ok, so that's quite a lot. Alaska is a lot (as it turns out). In a lot of ways, I feel like I was given another opportunity to do things I like to do in the world: to make change, to grow on a personal level (thanks to my tour mates who, as always, help push me to better and stronger places), expand my political knowledge, see amazing things, meet people who should probably run the world (or at least have a say in it, geez!). I left feeling a little overwhelemed about the what we're up against (thats always pretty present for me) but more so feeling inspired, hopeful, and incredibly lucky.

{Brandon, Agent, Recent, and me. Hanging out with a glacier.}

{just touching 20,000 year old ice}

{we even went under it. retrospect: that was a little dangerous. but SO so worth it}