Last year I took an epic train journey across the USA and down the West Coast. If you have ever been on one of these long distance Amtrak rides you know that after the first few hours you begin to talk to strangers, such wonderful strangers. On the journey I met Chino Young, a 52 year old man who is a member of the Quinault Indian Nation. What he shared with me over dinner as we rocked and rolled down through California has since become a international news story. His village must relocate because of sea level rise.
I heard National Public Radio reporting on Chino’s village, in a piece, Facing Rising Waters, A Native Tribe Takes Its Plea To Paris Climate Talks. Chino’s family and friends are seeing firsthand the effects of climate change in both the increased flooding and the decrease of fish yields, a major source of food. They also have loss a key source of water, a glacier.
The threat of climate change for the Quinault doesn’t end with sea-level rise. Five years ago, the Anderson Glacier, which contributes cool water to the Quinault River at critical times of year, disappeared for good. It had been receding for as long as locals had been photographing it, but Sharp still remembers the day when she saw that it was completely gone.
“In that moment I could feel my heart sinking, thinking that the glacier that feeds the mighty Quinault River has now disappeared,” she says.
But without the glacier, the Quinault River was lower than ever recorded. So low that while walking through a newly exposed stretch of riverbed, one tribal member stubbed his toe on what turned out to be a mastodon jaw that may have been submerged since the last ice age.
When a little over a year ago I came out as someone concerned about climate change, I understood how global warming already affected people in distant lands–Bangladesh, Syria, and the Philippines. Since that time I see how climate change is a daily reality for some Americans in California, Washington, Texas, and Miami.
Talking to Chino also helped me understand how drastically our climate has changed since I was a boy. Since the 1980’s he has fought wild fires. That used to be a part-time seasonal job–not anymore. He explains how the wild fire season has lengthened in time and spread in distance.
I enjoyed my talk with Chino. It is a conversation filled with insight and reveals vulnerability both on the part of Chino and the Quinault Indian Nation. Take a few minutes and listen to this short audio magazine from the rails.