Alaskans use Arctic Science Summit Week to focus on climate change

As eyes turn to Fairbanks this month for the 2016 Arctic Science Summit Week, residents are gathering to have their say on an urgent crisis facing Arctic communities: climate change.

The ASSW states its purpose is to "facilitate communication across academia, government agencies, local communities, industry, non-governmental organizations and other Arctic stakeholders." With this goal in mind, the concurrent Fairbanks Rally for a Clean Energy Economy has stepped up communication on the part of the local community to articulate that climate change needs to be addressed and a transition to a clean energy economy is part of the solution.

It is apparent by now Alaska and the entire Arctic region are on the front lines of the worsening impacts of climate disruption. Worsening wildfires, permafrost melt, coastal erosion, and unpredictable winters are already threatening our communities and posing significant costs to infrastructure. Alaskans in rural and subsistence-based communities are feeling these effects more than anyone, with changing conditions posing growing challenges to traditional Alaska Native subsistence lifestyles and necessitating the relocation of entire villages. This is extreme stuff – and a growing number of Alaskans realize it's time to treat climate change like the emergency it is.

We need to face the hard facts of the crisis we're in, and they're not pretty. But a growing wave of mobilization for a clean energy economy allows us to also be hopeful for the potential in the solutions that will carry us forward. We know the answer to climate change is to dramatically cut back our carbon dioxide and methane emissions, and this clearly means a transition away from dirty fuels towards energy efficiency and clean, renewable energy.

This necessary and possibly revolutionary shift will be a challenge in the long term for fossil fuel states like Alaska, but with Arctic climate impacts likely only to grow in significance, we have every stake in doing our part. Our current fiscal challenges show us our dependence on oil is already doing us harm. Investing now into a diversified, renewable energy economy will not just address climate change, but can also build a foundation for an equitable, sustainable and much more resilient society for generations to come.

Communities in Alaska and worldwide are already showing the benefits this energy transition can hold.

Kodiak's rapid expansion of wind-power, for instance, has driven down electricity rates and saved households money as well as carbon emissions. Likewise, prioritizing energy efficiency, much like the Cold Climate Housing Research Center has long championed, is already helping to keep Alaskans warm and displace fossil fuel use. At the same time, in Germany, large-scale investment in the renewable energy sector with the Energiewende has resulted in net job growth and economic stimulus as fossil fuels are replaced with renewables. The positive impacts that responding to climate change can bring are increasingly apparent.


What has been amazing for me to see in the rapid growth of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, is just how widely this message for climate action is resonating. From Alaska Native leaders standing up for subsistence and the land, to faith communities recognizing the ethical obligation to disproportionately impacted communities, future generations and all of life; to students fighting for their future and workers who see the many well-paying and necessary green jobs we can create. The moral imperative and incredible opportunity in climate action are starting to build community consensus that feels incredibly powerful.

As Arctic researchers and leaders honorably working on the challenges Alaska and other circumpolar regions are facing, ASSW attendees should also listen to the voices of their host community. The challenges being faced in Alaska reflect those felt throughout the entire circumpolar North. If we treat the climate crisis with the urgency it deserves now, we still have an opportunity to respond proactively with solutions that build resiliency and sustainability for our communities.

Tristan Glowa is a Fairbanks resident, Yale University student and member of the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition.

Tristan Glowa

Tristan Glowa is a member of the Fairbanks Climate Coalition and a student at Yale.