‘Impossible to ignore’ why alaska is crafting a plan to fight climate change – station finder 3 gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect


The state is still finalizing its climate strategy. In October, Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who won election as an independent in 2014, created a task force headed by Lieutenant Governor Mallott that would propose specific policies to reduce emissions and help the state adapt to the impacts of global warming. The recommendations are due by September.

In addressing climate change, Alaska will have to grapple with its own deep contradictions. Roughly 85 percent of the state’s budget is funded by revenues from the production of oil, which is primarily exported to the rest of the United States, and local politicians have largely been unwilling to curtail the supply of fossil fuels. Both Governor Walker and Lieutenant Governor Mallott supported the recent decision by Congress to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas exploration, a move opposed by environmentalists.

“The state will continue to be an energy producer for as long as there is a market for fossil fuels,” the men wrote in a recent op-ed for the Juneau Empire. But, they added, “We should not use our role as an energy producer to justify inaction or complacency in our response to the complex challenge of climate change.”

To that end, the state’s climate task force released a draft in April that included a proposal for Alaska to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources like solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal by 2025, up from 33 percent in 2016. The draft also proposed cutting statewide greenhouse gas emissions one-third below 2005 levels by 2025, tackling sectors like transportation and “natural resource development,” which includes oil drilling operations.

Alaska, which ranks as the nation’s 40th-largest emitter overall but is fourth-largest on a per-capita basis, has already cut its emissions by 25 percent since 2005, driven by a drop in emissions from both aviation and industry. The state’s main climate impact, however, is through the oil that it exports to the rest of the country, where it is burned in cars and trucks.

Any carbon tax proposal within the state could face pushback from Alaska’s oil and gas industry. “I think they need to be focusing on things that will actually have an impact,” said Kara Moriarty, president and chief executive of the Alaska Oil and Gas Association. “Climate change is a global problem, so unless you’re talking about a global carbon tax, I’m not sure this would move the needle in a state with only 750,000 people.”

There is broader consensus that the state will need to take more immediate action to prepare for the impacts of higher temperatures. The Arctic is already warming faster than the rest of the planet. Wildfires are growing larger during the Alaskan summer, menacing homes and roads. Native communities that rely on walrus hunting are seeing catches decline as sea ice disappears. And, in May, the rural village of Newtok received a $22 million federal grant to help relocate residents threatened by erosion and flooding.

The state’s draft proposal urges more scientific research on threats like ocean acidification, which could threaten state fisheries, as well as new strategies to ensure food security in indigenous communities. By taking the lead on such efforts, the draft notes, Alaska could potentially export its adaptation know-how to the rest of the world.

“Many climate impacts are unfolding more quickly and sooner here,” said Nancy Fresco, a scientist studying climate adaptation at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. “But that could mean that the rest of country might be able to learn from our successes and failures.”