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 firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to work with you to get the word out about what you plan to do.