Compass: Alaska shouldn't be missing from climate change group

By KATE TROLLNovember 25, 2013 

I recently learned that Gov. Sean Parnell chose not to participate in the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, an accord to account for the cost of carbon, implement low-carbon fuel standards and to embrace clean energy. According to an account on Examiner.com (an online news account) government leaders from British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California all signed on. Gov. Parnell was invited to participate but declined.

Given the Parnell Administration's lack of action on the Affordable Care Act, it's not too surprising to learn about more Alaskans being left behind. Only this time all Alaskans, including future generations, are at risk of being left behind. As many know, climate change is already impacting Alaskans across the state.

Currently, twelve villages need immediate relocation due to erosion and storm threats from climate change. The Alaska Legislature has appropriated $12 million to assist these villages. According to Patricia Cochran, Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission, "almost all of our communities will at some point or at some period of time experience some problems associated with climate change."

The impact of Alaska heating up at twice the rate as the lower 48 also affects Alaskans living in and near our boreal forests. The Alaska Center for Climate Assessment and Policy (part of University of Alaska) notes: "The forests that cover one-third of Alaska are burning more widely and frequently." According to their assessment, "The area burned in Alaska was twice as large in the past decade (2000-2009) more than any decade in the previous 40 years (1960-1999); 6.6 million acres burned in the peak year of 2004. Models predict that the area burned per decade will double again by the middle of the century."

Ocean acidification may be the most disturbing impact. Ocean acidification is seen as the twin problem of climate change. As the world's oceans absorb more carbon, they become more acidic, reducing the carbonate ion essential for growing protective shells. This affects everything from king crab to the planktonic calcifiers that form the basis of the food chain. According to the Alaska Oceans Observing System, an interagency and stakeholder group, "if the plankton calcifiers can't survive, creatures that feed on them can't survive either. Ultimately, ocean acidification is a major threat to Alaska's economically vital, world-class commercial fisheries."

Alaska is exceptionally vulnerable to the ravages of climate change. From the eroding villages to melting permafrost, from the wildfires of the Interior to Alaska's commercial fishing industry, climate change imposes immediate challenges for all Alaskans. Yet, with the exception of capitalizing on the many economic opportunities promised by an ice free Arctic, Alaska's leaders remain unengaged in the issue of climate change.

Failing to participate in the Pacific Coast Action Plan, along with our neighbor British Columbia, is the latest missed opportunity to boost Alaska's clean energy economy. According to Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington, "This Action Plan represents the best of what Pacific Coast governments are already doing, and calls on each of us to do more together -- to create jobs by leading in the clean energy economy and to meet our moral obligation to future generations."

The motivation behind the actions of our neighboring states and Canada is threefold. One, to accept the realities of climate change; two, to create economic opportunities in clean energy and three -- most importantly -- to fulfill their sense of a moral obligation to future generations. "We are the first generation to feel the sting of climate change and we are the last generation who can do something about it," says Washington Gov. Inslee.

As exemplified by our neighbor British Columbia, we can find ways to grow the economy while reducing emissions. Being an oil state does not excuse us from our moral obligation to address the realities of climate change. On the contrary, being an oil state should obligate us more. Even Mexico, an oil dependent region, has a plan to reduce emissions and build resiliency, making Alaska the only coastal region in North America without a climate action plan.

Kate Troll served on Gov. Palin's Mitigation Advisory Group for Climate Change and was the only Alaskan invited to participate in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Global Climate Summit. She also did a speaking tour about Alaska as "ground zero for climate change."

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