Science & Memory

Issues of climate are becoming harder and harder to ignore in our rapidly changing world. It can be equally hard to tell stories of climate change in a way that doesn't induce compassion fatigue. In Science & Memory we strive to tell the stories that are personal, as impacts of rising temperatures are felt on local levels just as much as globally. In this way, we strive to do justice to both the science and the memory of a place and its people.

As a member of and writer for the 2015 Science & Memory team, I spent 11 days in Cordova, Alaska researching and reporting on issues of climate change. While in the field in Alaska, I wrote, collected audio in a range of elements, interviewed, researched, shot photos, experienced the Copper River Delta and its inhabitants, and collaborated with an incredible group of passionate students and professors.

This project was much more than 11 days in July. It included months of research, preparation, pre-interviews, and planning before going to work in America's last great wild. Now that we have returned, stories are being written, media is being edited, and plans are coming together, and continuing on with the newest team members.

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Clips:    Creating a Way of Life

Creating a Way of Life


Salmon run through the heart of Cordova. Whether fishing commercially or for subsistence, salmon are vital to both the industry and the identity of the region. There are good years and there are bad years; Each generation of fishermen faces change. As waters warm, changes in climate are perched to become the metaphorical albatross to these literal mariners forced to battle the consequences of human actions. Fishermen are among the first to feel these changes, and it will not be the first time they have felt a disruption in their ecosystem.

In 1989 when the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground, the fisheries were devastated. Still the fishermen returned, unlike the herring that disappeared in the spill. Nature is resilient, but the impacts of this man-made disaster are still felt decades later.

While they prepare their boats for the opening of the season, some fishermen are doubtful towards this years catch, but most are optimistic. The ups and downs are fresh in their memories. There are scarce years full of worry, and flush years full of fish. For these fishermen, whether this summer is their first or their fiftieth, salmon create more than an opportunity. The salmon create a way of life.

This piece was written for the Science and Memory team's blog, which was maintained leading up to, during, and for months after the reporting trip.

Safety First

A friend recently visited from Philadelphia for a conference. He arrived in Eugene with a suitcase and an inbox full of officials emails warning him of the dangers of the West. He was quick to show me the list of precautions they drew up for the visiting students. With advice on freezing to death in the Willamette and getting lost in the wilderness, the list ranged from reasonable to utterly laughable.

I’ve noticed that Oregon often comes with warning labels. Even with our microbrews, and counter-cultures, visitors arrive with images of lumberjacks, cougars, and icy waters.

With under two days until I leave, I realize that I see Alaska the way the East Coast sees Oregon. Reactions vary when I tell people where I’m headed, but it’s a rare day that I’m not told to stay away from bears.

It’s not that these worries and warnings are outlandish. Dangers exist in both places. We share a certain wildness in the northwest, which comes in varying degrees, but in my mind Alaska is the pinnacle.

One hundred years ago, what warning labels did Oregon carry? Were we downgraded from “hide the children” to “hide the beer” with the last grizzly bear?

Is Alaska headed our way?

Perhaps most people would see this as a good thing. Fewer grizzlies, fewer wolves, less wild, less danger.

But we aren’t ridding ourselves of danger, we’re simply trading the dangers of nature in for a newer, more human model. Trading bears, and snow, and floods for rising temperatures, and dams, and droughts.

As part of the connections team, I couldn’t be more excited about the work I will be doing in Alaska. Oregon and Alaska have so much in common, but I think we have even more to learn from each other.

Jen JacksonComment