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Tue Oct 08, 2013 at 03:53 PM PDT

Blogging from Barrow

by juliaolson

Julia Olson is executive director of Our Children's Trust and works with attorneys, scientists, filmmakers, and youth to secure science-based climate recovery plans to return CO2 levels to 350 ppm, under the Public Trust Doctrine. She is a mother, a lawyer, and a professor.

Three days ago I was heading to the northernmost town in the United States in order to help a dedicated public interest attorney prepare for and argue one of the most important cases the Supreme Court of Alaska has ever heard, Nelson Kanuk v. State of Alaska. The case is about whether the Alaska Constitution requires the State to protect the atmosphere as a public trust resource for present and future generations.  It’s only the second time the Alaska Supreme Court has traveled to Barrow (originally called Ukpeagvik, meaning “place to hunt snowy owls”) for oral argument.  The last time was over 30 years ago to hear a case on offshore oil and gas development in the Beaufort Sea.  Tonight, as I sit here at the Polar Bear Apartment we rented at 4476 North Star Road (just 4476 to locals), I am in awe of the richness of this place and the overwhelming experience of being at the top of the world.  I could not have anticipated all that I would witness and learn these past two short days.

When you walk out of the Alaska Airlines hangar in Barrow in October, it’s cold, the ground is white, the sky is usually grey, and it’s flat.  Nearly all of the buildings are on pilings or stilts because of the soggy permafrost when it warms, the roads are unpaved gravel under the ice and snow, and the only other things breaking up the vast landscape are the Arctic Ocean and the occasional snow covered lagoon.  To my eyes, it was stark.  But I was looking forward to spending a few days with my cousin, who happens to be teaching English at Ilisagvik College here for the past two years.

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Julia Olson is executive director of Our Children's Trust and works with attorneys, scientists, filmmakers, and youth to secure science-based climate recovery plans to return CO2 levels to 350 ppm, under the Public Trust Doctrine. She is a mother, a lawyer, and a professor.

For my whole life, the federal government has known that climate change, caused by our carbon emissions, would endanger generations of Americans.  And for decades, it has abdicated its sovereign duty to the people of this nation to prevent the ensuing harm from this climate crisis.

I was born in 1971 when President Nixon was in office and carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere were at 326 parts per million (ppm).  I was born during an environmental revolution when new laws to protect air, water, wildlife, and our nation’s natural treasures sprung from bi-partisan efforts and were consecrated by the pen of a Republican President.  I was born just after the civil rights movement that ignited in the streets and in the courts transformed our nation--three years to the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed.  I was born at a time when youth were concerned with other fundamental rights, like access to sustainable resources and environmental justice, led a legislative and Earth Day movement that reconstructed our government’s role over natural resources.

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