The March for Science took place over the weekend. People gathered for the third year to raise awareness of science on a local and global level. But what impact do such events have in small communities?
On a sunny Saturday morning, some 40 Dillingham residents gathered in the library parking lot. Deven Lisac, one of the organizers, spoke before the crowd.
“We need to take care of the planet and our resources," she said. "We need to take care of Mother Earth and all its inhabitants. This year we march for clean water and clean air. One of my favorite authors, Dr. Seuss, in the Lorax, says, ‘I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongue.’ Let’s start today and speak for Mother Earth.”
When Lisac finished speaking she began marching, and the group followed her down the road through town.
The March for Science is in its third year in Dillingham, part of a global movement that began in 2017. As people continue to gather annually to raise awareness of science on a local and global scale, one question lingers: What is the purpose of these events in small, rural places?
“This has got to be a community effort," said Tod Radenbaugh, a professor of environmental science at UAF Bristol Bay. “We need to find a balance between the consequences that our society’s having on the environment with us living a satisfying lifestyle and be happy," he said. "And science can do that. But we have to embrace science, and we have to make it part of our culture. I think it’s eroding. That’s why we’re marching.”
Radenbaugh stressed that practices need to start locally to be sustainable. Those sentiments were shared by Arne Watland, a retired superintendent.
"Simple things like recycling," he said. "There are some efforts here, but I know it's difficult and very expensive to recycle here. Aluminum - I can't imagine why anyone would throw an aluminum can away when it can be recycled. Glass - those are some simple efforts. Just clean up. There doesn't need to be trash lying around."
The city encourages residents to sort out glass, metal and electronics from other trash; if melted, those items can damage the dump's incinerator. But Watland said that changing the culture around such daily tasks takes time and good information.
"I think you need to be fully aware of the impact - even though it's a small impact. Don't leave your footprint. And the kids will follow us if we show them what we as adults are doing. There is a danger - can you imagine all the plastic that's floating around in there?" he asked, gesturing to the water. "It's criminal."
Some, like Paul Liedburg, have been taking steps to make the community's infrastructure more environmentally friendly. Liedburg is the chair of the newly-formed Friends of the Dillingham Landfill.
“There isn’t anything in our community that touches people like the landfill does. We all use it,” he said.
The landfill committee recently approved three initiatives for the coming months: Compacting light bulbs that contain mercury at the dump, continued maintenance of the fish waste bin, and exploring new opportunities to recycle in Dillingham.