Unalaska’s Brian Conwell has been selected as a youth ambassador to the Arctic Council.
For the next two years, he’ll represent Alaska and the Aleutian Islands at high-level meetings focused on the changing Arctic.
KUCB’s Laura Kraegel sat down with the high school senior to learn more.
CONWELL: I thought it was a good opportunity to branch out. Because I’m part of Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, and that has to do with the environment. Arctic Youth Ambassadors has to do with the environment, but also social issues and economic issues. It also has to deal with the country and issues worldwide, so I thought it’d be good to branch out.
KUCB: In this role, you won’t just be representing our community to the rest of Alaska. You’ll be representing our community and our state to the rest of the country and even the rest of the world. So for those of us who aren’t familiar, what is the Arctic Council?
CONWELL: It’s big group of all the Arctic countries: the U.S., Canada, Russia, Iceland, Norway, Sweden ...
KUCB: All these countries meet to discuss issues pertaining to the Arctic: climate change, economic development, diplomacy. But why should folks in Unalaska and the Aleutians pay attention when we’re not technically in the Arctic?
CONWELL: I would say that the Arctic Council does a lot of different things in a lot of different countries. Not everything is going to directly — not everything is going to concretely affect, at least on the surface, what we do in the Aleutians. But on a bigger level, it definitely will. It’s important that you stay tuned to the different decisions that our politicians are making — basically, what all of our decision makers that represent Alaska on a larger scale are doing. Because what they’re doing will affect us somewhere down the line. I think it’s really important that they make decisions with our best [interests] at heart. Not based on their own personal interests or what special interests tend to believe.
KUCB: What do you want those decision makers to know about our region? What do you see as the most important issues for the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands?
CONWELL: What we have to worry about, I think, is the biodiversity of our region. Which is important because biodiversity is the amount of different species that are present in our ecosystem. Basically, a high biodiversity means that our ecosystem is more resilient to changes. What can happen is that migratory species that stay in the Aleutians for a certain season — and go north or go south — are affected by the changes that happen not necessarily in the Aleutians, but outside the Aleutians. They come back and their population is diminished or something like that, and it hurts our ecosystem. Since our economy relies so heavily on the fisheries, any small changes to our ecosystem can be really impactful.
KUCB: You’ll be working to get that word out on the national and international stages. But you’re also an 18-year-old getting ready to graduate from high school. What are some of your other plans and goals for the future?
CONWELL: Well, I’ll be heading off to college. I’m not sure where yet, but I’m definitely going to continue what I’ve been doing. I think the great thing about high school is you get to try out a bunch of different things and figure out what you’re interested in. This happened to be something that I’m interested in, so I’m definitely going to keep pursuing it. As for my goals, I’m definitely going to keep staying involved. Even if I leave Alaska, I’ll definitely stay connected to the issues that are going to affect Alaska. I mean, I’ve lived here my entire life, so I’m definitely going to pay attention to what happens here.
KUCB: Thanks, Brian. Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the community?
CONWELL: Locally, you can get involved by doing community clean-up week. And making sure you are being as positive as you can about student activities. Because students who are in these — like Alaska Youth for Environmental Action, Arctic Youth Ambassadors, student government, National Honor Society, teen council — those are the same people who are going to be making decisions about the health of our community, the health of our region, and the health of our state in the future. And the more you can do to support them, the better.