Climate change conference gets Alaskan perspective

By Sarah Richards
Sun Star Reporter

Attendees at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark will be getting first hand information about arctic global warming from a UAF Rural Development class specifically designed for the event.

The class; 14 students, two professors and one staff member, left Sunday, Dec. 6, for the U.N. Climate Change Conference – COP 15 hosted in Copenhagen, Denmark and scheduled to run from December 7-18. The students are from throughout Alaska and have spent the semester preparing for this conference. The trip is being funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
According to Ralph Gabrielli, professor in the Alaska native and Rural Development Department, the class was designed in response to the grant that allowed students to attend Copenhagen in order to further the students’ learning opportunity. The main topic was, of course, climate change.

From Alaska’s largest city to small villages, the students were able to get to know each other electronically and then in person at various seminars during the semester. One student, Gabrielli said, is from southeastern Alaska, but currently on a yearlong internship in Washington D.C.

The class presented the students with a variety of different learning opportunities integrating intensive seminars and guest speakers through audio conferencing. Speakers included Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Mark Begich, as well as faculty said Gabrielli. The seminars preceding Copenhagen were held in Anchorage, Barrow, Bethel, and Nome.

“The class was delivered in a way that might seem strange to students who are residents on campus, but is quite usual to distance students,” Gabrielli said.

These students are not necessarily typical students, the professor said. “They’re non-traditional in that they’re a little older, and many of them hold jobs with significant responsibility.” He added that some of them have also known each other through work-related experiences. “They’ve been around,” he said.

Gabrielli relayed information on how the group was doing. Three days into the conference, he said, “They’re doing great… nobody got sick, nobody got lost. After a very brief and light jet lag, they got involved right away with volunteering at information booths and so forth.”

According to the students’ blog, http://akclimatewatch.blogspot.com , the 15,000 attendees at the summit represent 192 countries from around the world.

Gabrielli added that this class isn’t the only group from Alaska attending the conference. “The [Yukon River] Inter-Tribal Watershed Council is there, and several others, so everyone is trying to keep in contact.”

“There is a fabulous amount of interest in Alaska,” he said and added, “this is a potentially world-changing event.”

The students will be giving several presentations during their stay in Copenhagen, and Gabrielli was enthusiastic. “The students are taking their own experiences here in Alaska and sharing it with the rest of the world.”

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