Tag Archives: climate change

A Difference Maker

Thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.
Wearing my Alaska hat and taking in the beauty surrounding me. A special thank you to Scott Prewitt for capturing this moment.

At the start of this journey, I was looking for adventure. I hoped to learn and grow in my journalistic and video skills. I was excited to travel to Alaska, a new and fascinating place.

Now that we have completed our final day of the Backpack Journalism Program, I can say that I have accomplished all of this and so much more.

I can’t even come close to adequately putting this experience into words. It has far exceeded my expectations, and I feel so grateful for these past five weeks.

The Backpack Journalism team traveled to a place at the world’s edge, often unseen or forgotten by the lower 48. There we stayed in the small but welcoming community of Bethel where we learned about the Yup’ik culture, the people’s connection to the land and the effects of climate change. I was amazed by the openness of the community and how willingly people shared their stories with us. If they had not taken the time to be interviewed and filmed by us, the creation of our documentary would not be possible.

After learning about how climate change is affecting Alaska, this trip allowed me to reflect on my own life and how I live. Over the years, it has been easy for me to be critical of others who do not believe in climate change or chose to ignore it. But because climate change is a collective problem, I am as much a cause of this environmental crisis as anyone else. I recycle and walk to school, but I still drive a car and feed into the consumerism that is much of the cause of climate change. In the next few months, I will make the changes in my life necessary to live more simply and reduce the amount of energy and resources that I use.

Because of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I also gained a sense of confidence in myself and my abilities. I feel that I can now take on any challenge in life, which will be especially important as I begin my senior year of college and look to the future.

The memories I shared with my team members will be ones I’ll cherish forever, from watching the magnificent sunset during a boat ride on the Kuskokwim to the beautiful tundra walks to the countless games played in the social hall. The perpetual laughter of our group, no matter what the circumstance, made this experience unforgettable. The amount of joy that I have felt in the last month has renewed my spirits and inspired me to continue fighting for what I believe in.

I already miss the people and landscape of Alaska, but soon I will miss spending time with the 19 incredible people on the Backpack Journalism team. Thankfully we will always have a connection to each other and Alaska because of this film-making and community-building experience. Even though it was our last day of class today, I know that the journey is not over. We still have a great deal of editing to do on our documentary, and then comes the most exciting part of this project: sharing our film with others.

I feel blessed to be a witness to a part of the world that is hurting but still lively, rich in culture and appreciative of the land and community. I can end this five-week experience feeling as though I made a difference in some way, but I know that Bethel has made much more of a difference in me.

The hardship of impermanence

The reality of global warming hit me as I stood close to a melting glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park and watched a small stream trickle off the edge of this massive, frozen form. Living in the Midwest my entire life I grew up concerned about global warming, but far removed from the issue. I have always believed in the reality of global warming but the changing weathers direct connection to me was minimal.

But as I hiked up the trail that lead to the glacier back in Seward, Alaska, I passed signs that had dates on them which marked what year the glacier had been in that spot. As I continued on, I noticed the rapid regression of the glacier. Even since 1994, the year I was born, the glacier has melted almost a mile.

Seeing this drastic environmental change made me think of a quote said by Nelson when we interviewed him back in Bethel:

For the people that don’t believe in climate change.. you know, I don’t blame you for being a skeptic, but there are no climate deniers here in Bethel or in the rural parts of Alaska because we are living climate change, this is ground zero for us…I think we just need to find a way to say sorry to the land, and sorry that we are doing something wrong, and if it is then just you know…please forgive us…we need you here …

I think one of the greatest struggles of humanity is that we fall in love with things that are not meant to last forever. People die. Glaciers melt. Friendships fade. Permafrost subsides. Culture clashes with modernity.  While we try to cling onto things that are familiar, it would be remiss to think that the world keeps things stagnant. This is not to say that humans are not at fault for causing change to be made more quickly or for participating for destructive actions, but it is a struggle when things change.

As Brian McCaffery, a biologist we interviewed, pointed out- God is in control but we are His stewards. We are called to apologize for our actions, seek forgiveness, and resolve to find better ways to cope with God’s ever-changing world.

The melting glacier in national park.
The melting glacier in the  Kenai Fjords National Park.


Finally Seeing

If I had to choose one lasting image from my trip to Alaska, it would be the Exit Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.


I have never had any doubt about climate change, but viewing this glacier somehow made me see the issue in a new way, as if I had not fully grasped the situation our world faces.

I recently watched “Chasing Ice,” a documentary created by photographer James Balog, who uses time lapse images of glaciers to tell the story of climate change. It is a spectacular yet jarring film that shows how drastically glaciers are melting around the world, including sequences from Alaska.

To see a disappearing glacier before my eyes was an unforgettable experience.  I initially was excited to discover that we would be visiting the glacier, but during our hike up to Exit Glacier, I felt anxious about what we would find.

Yes, the glacier was extraordinary. But because of its noticeably shrinking size, I immediately felt saddened by the sight before me.

I admired the shades of blue on the ice but then observed that it was losing its pristine white color and instead acquiring a grayish tint from the rocks surrounding it. I saw the deep cracks throughout the glacier and a stream of water flowing down the ice mass.

A few weeks ago, Kenai Fjords National Park posted a picture on its Facebook page that illustrates the progression of the Exit Glacier’s ice melt. The changes are staggering.

If I return to Alaska someday and visit Exit Glacier, what will it look like? It’s a startling question to think about. Depending on how far into the future it may be, the glacier could look strikingly different.

It all depends on how quickly we act because we are running out of time. I see progress being made, but there is still so much more we need to do to curb the affects of climate change. I still have hope that our world leaders will be brave enough to take these necessary and urgent steps before it is too late.

As we put together our own documentary, a goal for the film is to tell the personal side of the issue and how it is truly affecting people in Bethel. Like “Chasing Ice,” I hope that our project will in some way make an impact on the community and shine a light on climate change to those who may not have seen it.


The Girl Who Makes a Difference

2007, in the small town of Norfolk, NE, the Norfolk junior high school cafeteria was crammed with students headed towards a large poster that hung across the wall. The students had been assigned the task of writing their future dreams upon the poster. One by one, children walked up and posted their dreams. A young boy approached the board and wrote “I want to be a doctor”, a giggling girl wrote, “ I want to be a singer”, and between the engineering wannabees and college basketball dreamers, stood a girl with a different idea of what her future would hold.

The girl with a mane of vibrant orange ringlets, glasses before her eyes and braces lining her teeth walked hesitantly up to the board. Though she was timid and soft-spoken, she was confident about her dream and she forcefully posted it to the wall. A dancer, track star, basketball player, and academic, the girl had her fair share of plausible dreams to write down. Yet unlike the other boys and girls, she did not wish to be a ballerina or an Olympian, she had one simple hope for her future, and it was this, “I want to make a difference”.

This young girl was Hayley Henriksen, and make a difference she has.

Growing up as the daughter of teachers, she has always had a passion for learning. This love of learning has led her to discover her numerous passions in which she hopes to leave her positive mark.

One such passion is climate change. As a ninth grader, Henricksen viewed the Al Gore film, An Inconvenient Truth, and was immediately impacted. This film led her to give a persuasion speech to her class surrounding the dangers of climate change.

Henriksen said, “It’s just kind of funny that as a ninth grader I was talking to my fellow students about climate change when they probably had no clue what I was talking about…But it’s been something I’ve been very passionate about.”

For the following Christmas, fifteen-year old Henriksen gifted her parent’s energy efficient light bulbs with the hopes that she could build a more climate change conscious household.

Henriksen’s knowledge and passion for climate change was once again heightened when she had participated on a service and justice trip in West Virginia. On this trip, she became aware the negative impact West Virginia’s high-energy usage and coal production was having on the environment.

“It’s just been like this issue that I cared about so much because I was overwhelmed by the problem.”

Through little acts of awareness every day, Hendrickson tried to make her own, small dent in alleviating the threat of climate change, but it was not until she embarked on the backpack journalism trip, that she saw how she could actually be making a difference for climate change.

Henriksen knew that in traveling to Alaska, there was a chance the topic of climate change would emerge, but the fact that the interviews have geared the documentary towards climate change more than exceeded her expectations.

Henriksen said, “Now there’s something that people can see that will maybe impact them and hopefully help them see that climate change is an issue that should be a priority.”

The climate change issue is just one example of the numerous times in which Hayley Henriksen has worked to make a difference in the world. She has also interned for the Obama campaign, been a part of the Cortina Service Learning campaign, and worked at the Salvation Army. She hopes to in the future work PR for non-profit organizations and to leave her positive mark on the Omaha community.

Hendrickson and her Alaska hat enjoying the view of nature and her favorite animal, the moose. Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams
Henriksen and her Alaska hat enjoying the view of nature and her favorite animal, the moose. Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams

“My life has been kind of a journey to try and find how I can make a difference.”

Henriksen has already lived up to her eighth grade expectations and is sure to continue making a difference throughout her life.

The Journey Continues

It was 4:30 p.m. this past Monday. I was running on two hours of sleep. I watched many suitcases ride the baggage claim carousel and pulled my bag off when it came around the corner. I grabbed the handle of my suitcase, more than ready to go home, call my mom, shower and sleep.

John, the head faculty advisor, shouted, “I’m going home. I’ll see you all tomorrow at 1 p.m.”

Wait, what?

Reality hit me hard. We entered the classroom on Tuesday afternoon with two weeks of class ahead of us.

The fun goes on and on, and for good reason. Making a documentary isn’t just about filming video, conducting interviews, and gathering information, it’s about editing and cutting footage and picking interviews that communicate to our future audience what about our 10-day experience touched us most.  In short, we have to sum up our Alaskan adventure in 20-30 minutes. It’s an almost insane goal if you think about it.

In order to achieve this goal, we all became friends with Final Cut Pro, if we weren’t already. We spent all day Tuesday  with our new friend, re-naming and organizing hours and hours of video clips.

We then started to transcribe the dozen or so interviews we conducted while in Bethel. That is, we listened to the video of each interview and typed out word-for-word what the interviewee said. It sounds boring. Listen, pause the video, type and repeat a million times. But I had so much fun.

I think I just got lucky, because the interviews I transcribed were not interviews I had the chance to sit in on while we were in Bethel. I had the chance to transcribe Nelson’s interview, which was the most amazing interview we conducted while we were there.

I remember the team coming back from that interview. There were lots of high-fives and the room immediately  filled with energy. His interview was a last-minute interview. We took a chance on him and he told us exactly what we wanted to hear and more.

He’s the most well-spoken 19 year old I have ever heard, and he has an awesome story.  I wanted to be his best friend by the time I was done listening.

I also transcribed part of Anna’s interview. She was a senior in high school who is going to study at the University of Minnesota next year. You could tell right away she was really nervous, and I think I had forgotten how often teenagers use the word “like.” It made transcribing a bit trickier.

After we were done transcribing, I got to know Final Cut Pro a little better. I made multi-cam clips of the interviews and marked important quotes. It’s not much, but I’m glad Final Cut Pro and I got along well.

After that initial work was done, the class was split into essentially two groups: the video team and the writing team. I am part of the writing team, and I’ve been really excited about the work we’ve done on writing the story/script.

We arranged all of the noteworthy quotes into categories like subsistence, fishing restrictions, climate change and Yup’ik spirituality, which are all categories that will make up our story. We then cut out all of the quotes into strips of paper and arranged and re-arranged them into a basic and rough script. It’s like fitting pieces into a puzzle.

The writing team spent Friday afternoon rearranging these quotes.
The writing team spent Friday afternoon re-arranging these quotes.

It’s hard to believe we got back from Alaska six days ago. Since then, we’ve put in four full days of work. It was a short yet entirely long week.

The amount of work we still have left is tremendous, so here’s to one week more and an endless amount of editing.




Melting Away

On our last day in Alaska, our touristy group made a trip up to Exit Glacier. I was in an average mood; I was a bit tired, but excited for a scenic hike. I was excited for the thrill of reaching our destination and simply looking at everything around us, and enjoying our last true piece of our time in Alaska.

On the way up the trail, my thoughts just wandered. Each little break in the trees, we’d see the beautiful mountains and sky surrounding us, and each time I’d have to do a little spin around and smile with admiration for the beauty that is Alaska. It was hotter than I had expected, so after each little break, I’d rush myself just a bit to get up to the crisp glacier air a bit quicker.

As I got closer to the Glacier, I came to this point:

The last sign on the way to Exit Glacier.

On that sign, it was noted as the location of Exit Glacier in about 1996. After reading, I began to feel slightly off, something I wasn’t expecting, as I finally began to feel the chilled wind from the face of the glacier.  I was still a little far from the edge itself, but I began to look around and I slowly realized the true impact of me being there.

I watched people walk up to the edge, smile or make a silly pose and get a picture. I watched people take a long look, and then just walk away. In the most recent exposed rock from the receding glacier, scrapes and scratches painfully dug into the rock were being ran over and overlooked. I suddenly felt disgusted with myself for being excited to be there. I was no longer a happy tourist; I was a mourning visitor.

This glacier, this change, had happened and is still happening in my lifetime. I looked at the clawed rock and I saw suffering. I looked at those smiling and taking goofy pictures as ignorant (even though I did get pictures in front of it). This once massive, beautiful structure stood with pride, yet now it is literally melting, receding, and cracking, losing its place on earth.

Exit Glacier, as it stands today.
Exit Glacier, as it stands today.

In a way I could compare it to the Yup’ik culture we experienced in Bethel. The old ways and traditions were being pushed back, forced, by a new western outlook. The children didn’t want a part of the Yup’ik ways, they want the modern ways, and therefore don’t make room for the culture. Just as the glacier had clung to rocks, trying desperately to pull itself back, those who believe in the Yup’ik culture are trying to bring it back to the people of Bethel.

In our times as humans, we lose things. From friends, toys, or games, to memories, material goods, or history, things disappear from our lives and this world all the time. But something made this different for me. It’s happening now. When I was 5 years old, that glacier was bigger; now it’s not. That one moment, standing on the edge of Exit Glacier made me realize the harsh truth of the matter; if people don’t see the importance of things such as culture and climate change, they are just going to keep disappearing.

Though I was in no way expecting something from that hike, it taught me something. It showed me the importance of staying aware, and being on the side of seeing importance and value in my history, my traditions and culture, and those of others as well.

I’ve learned a lot from my time in Alaska. From all the people and stories and lessons shared, it was all an incredible experience. Yet I got my final push of remembrance and inspiration from that hike frozen in my mind; and it’s one thing that will never melt.

A beautifully written passage about the glacier.
A beautifully written passage about the glacier.

What the Future Holds

During the ten days I spent in Bethel, I heard numerous stories about the threats of climate change. I saw the tears of a young college student as he explained the reality of climate change. I heard the fears of Yup’ik elders, who could foresee an ominous future due to this reality. However, it was not until I headed to Seward, AK on our tourism portion of the trip, that I visibly saw the effects of climate change.

Saturday, our group had the amazing opportunity to explore the creatures and landscape of the sea on a six hour long boat tour.

The views were breathtaking and majestic. The earth stood untouched by humans and the sea was fresh and clear. Unlike most places I have visited in the lower 48, there was no smog or skyscrapers interrupting the nature as it played out before us.

I saw dolphins race beneath the boat and leap freely between the waves. I saw six sprightly whales traveling together as a family. Sea lions, tufted puffins, and bald eagles graced our presence as we witnessed the beauty and grace possible when humans are not misusing and abusing the land.

Then, our boat approached a glacier. The first thing I witnessed was its obvious beauty and massiveness, but not short after, I came to notice the chunks of ice floating in the surrounding sea. I then heard large rumbles followed by pounds and pounds of ice crashing to the sea and saw water trickling down the ice structure.

The glacier I saw on the boat tour
The glacier I saw on the boat tour

With each new drop of water or topple of ice, I thought back to the nature I had just witnessed in the open sea. I thought of how carefree and healthy they seemed living so far from an obnoxious human population. I then came to realize how wrong I was in thinking they were untouched by the human race.

Our pollution, waste, and energy needs are affecting creatures miles and miles away from us. With each new ice chunk that enters the sea, the habitat of the dolphins, whales, and sea lions is changing. In this moment, I  finally understood why the Yup’ik elders fear what the future holds.

Without a drastic change in our current behavior, species, food sources, and the land may not survive, and their literally may be nothing for the future to hold.

In the Words of the People

For the past week, I have spent every night writing and rewriting a blog that I have decided can never be written. I searched through my mental thesaurus for the perfect words to describe the great culture and wisdom that is present in this off-the grid town and discussed my ideas with anyone who was willing to listen. However, the more I wrote, the more I erased.

I then came to realize that my words would never be sufficient when attempting to explain the powerful relationship the Yup’ik people have between their identity and the landscape or when trying to emote the heart-brokenness displayed by the natives when they see the effects of climate change in their homeland. The only words that can create this impact, are the words of those who first spoke these truths to me.

Michelle Dewitt explained the complexity of the Yup’ik way of life.

“Cultural identity, language, and lands are interconnected in inseparable ways.”

Patrick Tam told of the unique difference between the Yup’ik subsistence lifestyle and the mainstream American food culture.

“A white man’s food has no memory.”

A man named Fritz warned of the danger tied to the looming king salmon regulations

“Lives could be lost…that’s a guarantee.”

A woman named Rose warned of the danger tied to our mistreatment of the land.

“If the world starts making noise, so will Mother Nature.”

And a boy named Nelson tearily explained that the noise of Mother Nature can already be heard.

“We’re living climate change; this is ground zero for us…We need to find a way to say sorry to the land”

The stories I have heard throughout my time in Bethel are not only important for the people of Bethel, but also for the people of the earth for generations and generations to come.

In the Yup’ik culture, stories are told from generation to generation and carry with them an important lesson or a moral. In continuation of this tradition, I hope that our backpack journalism program will be able to pass on the story of the Yup’ik culture, tradition, and land while promoting the idea that the land is a gift, and we need to treat it well.

The fish I cut and ate for lunch on my last day in Bethel. The Yup'ik people rely on fish such as these every day as part of their subsistence lifestyle.
The fish I cut and ate for lunch on my last day in Bethel. The Yup’ik people rely on fish such as these every day as part of their subsistence lifestyle.

I would never shower like before…

Showering was a funny conversation the last two weeks among the members of our group,

Newtak, Alaska, 2014, by Tony Homsy S.J
Newtok, Alaska, 2014, by Tony Homsy S.J

we had limited resource of water in Bethel, (it coasts approximately 350$ per week to fill your tank). With kind of respectful and mindful attitude, we economize the using of water in good way. We weren’t neither anxious nor careless, and the whole group has a kind of agreement that it is more authentically of we do that, since our documentary has being oriented more and more toward environment and global warming issues…

Continue reading I would never shower like before…

Newtok … New-talk

Couple days ago, me and Tim (my videography teacher) went to Newtok, a tiny village at

Tony Homsy S.J., Alaska, 2014
Tony Homsy S.J., Newtok, Alaska, 2014

the Bering sea, Tim wrote on his blog about the purpose of this special adventure, here.

What we had seen in Newtok was kind of severe poverty, no trucks or cars, it is almost an isolated island, the only way to go there is by airplane, and it is expensive. Cold weather makes everything look poor, and life style is very demanding, imagine that you are obliged to use heating systems to survive, even in June! People there showed me the extreme different life of what we have in our ordinary one.  Continue reading Newtok … New-talk