How to solve Alaska's climate and energy woes

Without question, Alaska has massive oil and gas reserves. Still it is not immune to rising costs and resource depletion. By industry's own accounts, even here in the fossil-fuel Mother Lode, oil and gas is ever more difficult and costly to produce.

Climate change isn't a popular topic of conversation outside of Alaska's scientific and impacted Bush communities. But by all accounts, the climate is warming twice as fast here as in the lower 48. Average temperatures in Alaska have climbed 3.4 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 50 years, and winters are an alarming 6.3 degrees warmer. Average annual temperatures are expected to rise 3.5 to 7 degrees by 2050, a mere 36 years from now.

A major voice in the ongoing SB21 debate, Anchorage Daily News columnist Shannyn Moore recently asked, "Do we really want to guarantee that the state will have to search for other sources of revenue to fund itself in the future?"

While rhetorical in arguing against SB 21, it's a key question that many Alaskans on both sides of the oil tax debate seem to want to avoid.

Viewed from the broader lens of climate change and diminishing oil reserves, the inescapable answer is that -- sooner or later, like it or not -- Alaskans have no other choice but to identify other sources of revenue to fund state coffers. Multiple forces are at work -- resource depletion, inevitable carbon taxes, a growing international fossil fuel resistance movement -- that lead to increasingly unfavorable oil and gas cost-benefit ratios for Alaska.

Coastal erosion is already beating Alaskan bush communities to a pulp. The 284-square-mile Funny River megafire is another dreadful reminder of the potential for a hotter, dryer climate to stress our communities.

Groundwork was laid in the previous decade to move Alaska to a secure future based on an abundance of inflation-proof energy (see the Alaska Energy Report). Unbearably high energy costs continue to spur bush communities to seek more affordable, reliable and sustainable energy sources.

Instead of spending untold billions trying to sell high-cost natural gas in a flooded market, Alaskans would get a far better return on investment in renewable energy. If pushed, feed-in tariffs (FiT), Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) and similar policies would foster energy independence throughout Alaska while stabilizing the economy and empowering our ownership state.

Ceal Smith has worked as a field biologist, environmental compliance expert, researcher and energy policy analyst for communities, attorneys and nonprofits since the mid 1990's. She founded the Renewable Communities Alliance in 2009 to promote clean energy alternatives.