Sunday, August 16, 2009

Help! The Eskimos Are Sinking!

Go west from the Alaskan town of Bethel, almost to the coast, out in the tundra where the tallest vegetation doesn’t come up to your knee, is the dismal Yupik Eskimo town of Newtok.

Newtok, Alaska

This village of 350 suffering Eskimos is slowly sinking into the thawing permafrost. The Ninglick River is rapidly tearing away the shoreline. You walk around on plank sidewalks that squish into the muck. Every inch of ground is wet or underwater. Every puddle is a seething brew of E.Coli from the honey buckets that are emptied wherever possible. It’s a mess.

I don’t have to tell you what’s causing this. The permafrost turns into a soggy sponge, the glaciers melt and swell the rivers, ice packs recede leaving the coast unprotected from winter gales. Yep, global warming. Some say it’s not our fault. The Yupiks don’t agree. They’re begging for help, and while waiting for it, suing the U. S. government for its failure to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

The young Yupik men play poker, drink moonshine, and cook meth. The high school girls search the hands of visitors for wedding rings. “Take me the hell out of here!” I know these things are true because my son, Luke, is up there right now trying to help these people relocate to higher ground.

Robert “Luke” Jenkins, USMC

Along with a handful of other enlisted Marines, a few soldiers, national guardsmen, and one inexplicable Air Force captain, Luke’s little task force is camped 9 wet river miles from Newtok. We’ve heard from him twice, late at night on a satellite phone that he, in the best tradition of the Corps, boosted from the Army. All things considered, the crummy weather, bad food, no booze, and few smokes, Luke says he’s happy. I believe him. He’s on the forward edge of the planetary battle lines fighting a war worth winning. He knows this. He’s profoundly aware of the great privilege he enjoys just being there and doing what he can in service to the Yupiks, his country, and all of us down below. My son, the warrior. Could any dad be more proud?

If you have the software, use Google Earth get a glimpse of Newtok, Alaska. The shot above is a couple of years old, so you can imagine it now, mostly underwater. You can also Google Newtol, Alaska to read about the deplorable conditions Yupik Eskimos are enduring.

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