For the past few years, organizations and businesses in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta have put on a conference in Bethel to tackle some of the biggest challenges in the region: jobs, energy costs, and the environment. Usually they focus on them separately, but not this year.
The theme of the conference was the Y-K Three E’s: Environment, Economy, and Energy.
Clarence Daniel is the director of transportation at the Association of Village Council Presidents, one of the organizations that put on the event this week. He hopes to see ideas come to fruition from this year’s gathering.
"A lot of times, when we've seen conferences and meetings, we do a lot of looking back at where we come from," Daniel said.
The issues are familiar to Y-K Delta residents: high unemployment, high power bills, and a changing environment that’s impacting fishing and berry picking and making the frozen ice roads unreliable in winter.
In the past the organizers took up one topic at a time, but this year they tried something different.
"I think that previously we would have an energy summit, but we would talk about environmental change and economic development. But I think it’s really important that we recognized those elements intertwined, and that we took an approach that’s more holistic," Hanson said.
That’s Natalie Hanson, the executive director of Nuvista Light and Electric Cooperative, one of the organizers. She says that taking this approach helps them pool resources and find more funding, which can hopefully turn these ideas into reality.
Climate change poses significant challenges for many things, including energy costs, but Calista Corporation President/CEO Andrew Guy says that climate change can be also be an opportunity.
"Well, the impact of climate change is more severe on the food sources that we have out here, so that’s another opportunity to develop, like, gardening or farming, herd animals, that kind of stuff that can be developed. And those can be opportunities that can take the place of the food sources being negatively impacted by climate change," Guy said.
The organizers say that climate change isn’t the reason they decided to take a more comprehensive approach to the region. However, they acknowledge that there is an urgency that now underlies efforts toward meeting these challenges in a rapidly warming world.