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First Person Singular: Documenting Climate Change

Originally appears in the Spring 2010 issue

When I look out over my classes, at my students who are working towards their teacher certification, I see a diverse sea of faces. They come from all walks of life, are at different points in their educational (and working) careers, and have different goals for their future middle and high school students. However, one commonality among the majority of them is their geog- raphy. Most of my students hail from western Washington state, up and down the “I-5 corridor.” Take the freeway north, and in 15 minutes you’re in Canada. A few hours south, and you’ve crossed into Oregon. On a daily basis, my students do not give much thought to climate change. Oh, sure, in a theoretical way, it matters. Many of my students claim to be “green” through and through. They recycle, use compact fluorescent bulbs, and buy local products whenever possible. But as for the big changes — the catastrophic ones that are happening in polar regions — my students just don’t see them. Western Washington is still rather far removed from any of the danger zones that they might read about or view on television. Much farther removed than parts of rural Alaska.

Kwigillingok is a small Yup’ik fishing village on the coast of the Bering Sea in western Alaska. Its population of approximately 400 depends on a subsistence economy, much as their ancestors have done for thousands of years.

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Lauren G. McClanahan is an Associate Professor of Secondary Education in Woodring College of Education at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.