The Alaska climate emergency may is arguably more critical than anywhere else on Earth. The state’s ice is melting, its forests are burning, and statewide ecosystems are dying. Naturally, Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy’s administration is somehow doing less than nothing as it disbands climate task forces and outright denies a climate emergency. The Dunleavy administration is actively moving in the wrong direction. Our nation’s northernmost state is barreling towards an environmental catastrophe, and the current administration seems entirely apathetic.
Climate Change’s Increased Arctic Effect
A common perception is that the Earth’s increased temperature spreads relatively evenly across the planet. Unfortunately, this is not the case; researchers consistently find the North Pole is warming at a much greater rate than average.
In its most recent Arctic Report Card, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a government agency under the Department of Commerce, stated: “surface air temperatures in the Arctic continued to warm at twice the rate relative to the rest of the globe”.
This is due to a phenomenon called Arctic amplification. Normally, white ice and snow reflect sunlight back into space, which keeps the Earth cool. Unfortunately, melting ice exposes the dark colors of the land and sea beneath which absorb more energy and exacerbates climate change.
Ice melts, exposing dark colors, and the resultant warming causes more ice to melt in a catastrophic cycle.
A fair amount of Alaska’s land lies within the Arctic Circle, and the North Pole’s climate change trends affect the entire state. In a separate report, NOAA indicated that statewide temperatures have increased drastically, the snow season has shortened, and a record number of daily highs outnumber the lows.
This hurts every Alaskan and American, but politicians don’t seem to care.
Administration Inaction Worsens Alaska Climate Situation And Hurts Its Citizens
Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy assumed office in December of 2018 and has wasted no time in promoting climate inaction. He started this February by disbanding the state’s climate response task force.
In a prepared statement administration spokesperson Matt Shuckerow argued “no governor should be tied to a previous administration’s work product or political agenda” because we live in a country where staving off environmental catastrophe is somehow indicative of a forced political agenda.
That depiction of the Alaska climate situation may sound alarmist, but the sentiment is echoed by top-ranking state officials.
Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Commissioner Jason Brune was appointed by Governor Dunleavy, and he seems well aware of the drastic effects of climate change, as he explained in an interview with Alaska Public Media.
“We’re seeing increased fires, we’re seeing permafrost melting, glaciers are melting so, absolutely, we are having impacts from a changing climate in Alaska, more so probably than anywhere else on earth.” — Commissioner Jason Brune, Alaskan Department of Environmental Conservation
This is a powerful explanation of the widespread destruction of Alaskan landscapes. Unfortunately, it was only spoken as Commissioner Brune backpedaled from an equally momentous quote.
“I don’t think it is an emergency right now” — Brune
Brune Hopes To Sustain Non-Renewable Energy
Naturally, Brune failed to mention what exactly would substantiate an emergency. The state is taking measures to counteract current climate destruction, but it has chosen to ignore future projections and “big reports” as Brune put it.
The administration has made it clear that its foremost concern is sustaining non-renewable energy. Brune used to work for one of Alaska’s most controversial mines, and he is a staunch advocate for the oil industry.
It is understandable that Dunleavy and Brune want to protect Alaska’s economy, but this stance of inaction is exacerbating the Alaska climate crisis.
Protecting The Oil Industry Rather Than Citizens
Mining represents 24% of Alaska’s GDP, which is certainly a significant portion. It is the backbone of Alaskan trade and provides approximately one-third of all Alaskan jobs.
Regardless of ideology, it would be unreasonable to expect Alaska to forsake the industry, oil is simply too important to the state. That said, bending over backward to accommodate the industry has its own consequences, particularly on Alaska climate.
It is certainly true that excessive mining regulation would hurt the people of Alaska. It is also true that ice melting and rampant wildfires will also hurt Alaska’s people.
The answer is not to choose economic viability in favor of widespread environmental collapse. Some citizens are already facing the consequences of these misplaced priorities.
Alaska’s Oil Industry Seeing More Care Than Its Indigenous People
Approximately 15% of the state’s population is Alaskan Natives, an umbrella term for the various indigenous cultures who have lived off the land for thousands of years.
Many still rely on the environment to live, and several village’s subsistence economies have been wrecked by climate change.
Shouldn’t Alaska’s indigenous people be valued just as much as the oil industry?
Alaskan Federation of Natives Have Already Declared A Climate Emergency
The Alaskan Federation of Natives (AFN), has declared a climate emergency, unlike the state of Alaska. It was a divisive measure, as many Alaskan natives and tribes work within the oil industry themselves.
Still, it shows a level of cooperation and understanding that Alaska as a whole has not yet demonstrated. Alaska cannot feasibly abandon oil. But the current administration can certainly work to regulate mining within reason and take proactive action to stop climate change.
A policy of putting out fires as they occur will ultimately fail.
Even recreating its task force and acknowledging the climate emergency would be a step in the right direction.
Alaska Climate Situation Has Potential To Improve, But Government Must Act On Policy
According to US News, the state currently ranks 45th in terms of environmental policy, so there is obviously room for improvement.
The Dunleavy administration must take steps to protect Alaska’s environment as it does the oil industry. It is certainly a daunting prospect, but perhaps the state can follow the AFN’s example.
Final Note: If you are a policy-maker in Alaska, we would like to hear from you at email@example.com. We would be happy to work with you to get the word out about what you plan to do.
New Zealand Steps Up To The Plate On Climate Action As Australia Lags Further Behind
Australian progressives have long looked in jealousy across the Tasman Sea to New Zealand on its commitment to climate action. There, New Zealand leads the South Pacific in attempts to resolve these divisive problems. Additionally, NZ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has become a beacon for progressive government policies. It’s less so in Australia.
There, action on meeting emissions targets has stalled. Also, government support for renewable energy and the protection of the environment have been secondary concerns.
A Stark Contrast In Climate Action Between NZ And Australia
Australia is currently suffering under the worst drought for decades. Moreover, bushfires in a number of states have destroyed property and continue to threaten towns and cities.
In contrast to his NZ counterpart, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has seen criticism for a Trump-style “thoughts and prayers” approach for bushfire victims as opposed to real climate action to reduce the effects of the climate crisis.
This approach has (unsurprisingly) caused anger among some bushfire survivors.
Further, while Australia has seen inaction on the climate emergency, New Zealand has stepped up to the plate. Its government has declared that climate will be central to all future policy decision-making.
Positive Climate Action Sentiments At NZ’s Governmental Level
The New Zealand parliament passed the Zero Carbon Act earlier in the year. Additionally, Environment Minister James Shaw announced that all major decisions made by the Ardern government would keep the climate emergency in mind.
“Cabinet routinely considers the effects of its decisions on human rights, the Treaty of Waitangi, rural communities, the disability community, and gender – now climate change will be a standard part of Cabinet’s decision-making too,” Shaw said in an announcement.
He added that an impact assessment on climate will be central to the government’s decision making.
“A climate impacts assessment will be mandatory for policy and legislative proposals that are designed to reduce emissions, or which are likely to have consequential impacts on greenhouse emissions greater than 250,000 tonnes a year.”
Climate Action Lags In Australia
A roundtable representing a diverse range of groups including environmental organizations, businesses, farmers and unions has warned that a “business as usual” approach to the climate emergency “would have serious economic, environmental and social impacts on Australia.”
The statement coincided with the Madrid climate talks with the Australian Climate Roundtable calling on the federal government to take climate action and adopt policies that would achieve deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions.
“Our overarching aim is for Australia to play its fair part in international efforts to achieve this while maintaining and increasing its prosperity,” said the media statement.
“Achieving this goal will require deep global emissions reductions, with most countries including Australia eventually reducing net greenhouse gas emissions to zero or below.”
Takeaways From The Roundtable
The roundtable believes government policy should be instrumental in achieving change. From the group’s joint principles released in May 2019:
“Policy instruments should: be capable of achieving deep reductions in Australia’s net emissions in line with our overall goal; provide confidence that targeted emissions reductions actually occur; be based on an assessment of the full range of climate risks; be well designed, stable and internationally linked; operate at least cost to the domestic economy while maximizing benefits; and remain efficient as circumstances change and Australia’s emissions reduction goals evolve.”
Australia definitely has the capacity to commit further to climate action, but will it? And how?
President Trump Signs The PACT Act, A Bipartisan Animal Welfare Agreement, Into Law
Congress and President Trump finally agree on something: the PACT Act, which states that certain acts of animal cruelty should be a federal crime. On Monday the president signed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act into law. There was bipartisan support for the legislation. In fact, it passed both the house and the senate unanimously earlier this fall.
The PACT Act: Where It Came From And Trump’s Stance
The PACT Act prohibits extreme acts of cruelty when they occur in interstate commerce or on federal property.
The legislation strengthens and expands a law President Barack Obama signed in 2010, one that prohibits graphic videos showing animal torture.
Now the feds can prosecute animal cruelty, even if there’s no video of the crime. If convicted, animal abusers could face up to seven years in prison, plus additional fines.
“This should have happened a long time ago and it didn’t,” President Trump said at the bill’s signing ceremony. “It is important that we combat these heinous and sadistic acts of cruelty, which are totally unacceptable in a civilized society.”
New Law Mends Gap
All 50 states have the ability to charge those accused of animal cruelty with a felony. But until now there was no federal ban against the crime. Animal advocates said it was a gap in the law.
“After decades of work to protect animals and bearing witness to some of the worst cruelty, it’s so gratifying the Congress and president unanimously agreed that it was time to close the gap in the law and make malicious animal cruelty within federal jurisdiction a felony,” Sara Amundson, the President of the Humane Society Legislative Fund said.
“We cannot change the horrors of what animals have endured in the past, but we can crack down on these crimes moving forward. This is a day to celebrate.”
The Scope Of The PACT Act
The PACT Act goes into effect immediately. It does not apply to people who hunt, trap, fish or slaughter animals for food. It also does not apply to those who use animals for medical or scientific research.
This article was originally published at Grit Daily and a lightly-edited version of her article has been syndicated.
Final Note: If you work at an animal welfare organization, we would love to hear your thoughts on the PACT Act. Feel free to shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Australia Gets Flamed For Neglecting The Climate Emergency In The Pacific
Former Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga has re-opened the controversy over Australia’s high-handed approach at this year’s Pacific Islands Forum. Australia has been accused of trying to silence Pacific leaders, like Sopoaga, who are demanding it to do more to combat climate change.
Tuvalu hosted the Pacific Islands Forum in August.
At the forum, Australia pressured Sopoaga among other pro-climate action leaders from the Pacific, to accept a watered-down communique. Many leaders believe it would do little to combat the climate emergency in the Pacific.
Australia not tackling the Pacific’s unique climate challenges
Sopoaga told Australia’s SBS News he thought hosting the PIF forum in Tuvalu would highlight the challenges facing smaller Pacific nations. He said he sought to show countries like Australia the existential threat climate change poses to low-lying countries like Tuvalu.
However, he regretted that support was not forthcoming. Further, he didn’t like that Pacific leaders who spoke out on climate change had the chance to accept hush money.
“Putting this money on the table … and then expecting Pacific Island countries like Tuvalu to say ‘OK, we’ll stop talking about climate change’ … is completely irresponsible,” he added.
Sopoaga said action was needed at domestic level in countries such as Australia to have any effect.
“Any amount of money that is coming with the Step-Up [Pacific aid program] cannot be seen as an excuse for no action at a domestic level to cut down on greenhouse emissions.”
Climate change poses an existential threat to Tuvalu
Tuvalu, like a number of low-lying Pacific micro-nations, is under threat from climate change. The sea has almost claimed two of the nine islands. And with the highest point only 4.6 meters above sea level, locals fear they will one day be completely swamped.
Home to just 11,000 people and an average of just 6.6 feet above sea level, Tuvalu is in danger. In fact, its people are already making plans to evacuate should sea levels rise further.
Sopoaga has previously rejected offers to relocate the people, saying it won’t make a significant difference.
“Moving outside of Tuvalu will not solve any climate change issues,” Sopoaga says. He adds, “If you put these people in the middle of industrialized countries it will simply boost their consumptions and increase greenhouse gas emissions,” as he told The Guardian in May.
Sopoaga’s term as Tuvalu PM came to an end last month after losing a vote in the country’s parliament. The expectation is that his successor, Kausea Natano, will continue the call to action from the world on climate change.
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