Before she denied climate change, Sarah Palin acknowledged and confronted it

Since her meteoric rise to fame in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin has been a leading voice in the climate change denial movement. Celebrity and ignorance are a dangerous mixture.

Palin claims climate change is a hoax, snake oil, junk science, and a left-wing conspiracy to shut down development. After a late season snowfall in southern Alaska in 2013, she wrote on her Facebook page: "Global warming my gluteus maximus." And Palin is now using her tabloid, televangelist fame to promote the most recent climate change denial effort, the flagrantly inaccurate film "Climate Hustle."

But surprisingly, Palin wasn't always a voice of ignorance on climate change. Before she went down then tea party rabbit hole in 2008, into the fantasy world of climate change denial devoid of fact, science, or reason, Palin actually believed the science of climate change and the necessary governmental response.

As governor in 2007, Palin issued Administrative Order No. 238 establishing the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet, which she tasked with developing and implementing an Alaska climate change strategy. This is some of what she stated in that order:

"Scientific evidence shows many areas of Alaska are experiencing a warming trend. Many experts predict that Alaska, along with our northern latitude neighbors, will continue to warm at a faster pace than any other state, and the warming will continue for decades. Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is also a social, cultural, and economic issue important to all Alaskans. As a result of this warming, coastal erosion, thawing permafrost, retreating sea ice, record forest fires, and other changes are affecting, and will continue to affect, the lifestyles and livelihoods of Alaskans. Alaska needs a strategy to identify and mitigate potential impacts of climate change and to guide its efforts in evaluating and addressing known or suspected causes of climate change."

Palin's 2007 climate change order directed her new subcabinet to, among other things, focus efforts on the following:

"The prioritization of climate change research in Alaska; development of an action plan addressing climate change impacts on coastal and other vulnerable communities in Alaska; policies and measures to reduce the likelihood or magnitude of damage to infrastructure in Alaska from the effects of climate change; the potential benefits of Alaska participating in regional, national, and international climate policy agreements and greenhouse gas registries; the opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; and the opportunities for Alaska to participate in carbon-trading markets, including the offering of carbon sequestration."


At that time, Palin seemed a true believer in the science, impacts, risks and necessary responses to climate change. In fact, Palin's subcabinet did some excellent initial work on the issue, and developed a robust Alaska climate change strategy.

Then came her trip down the rabbit hole in 2008, where she and her supporters have been stuck ever since. Her adoring fans wanted to be told a fairy tale on the climate issue, and she has been more than willing to oblige.

Of course since that time, climate change has gone from bad to worse in Alaska. Unfortunately, these earlier efforts to address the issue here have been entirely ignored in the oil politics of Alaska today. Although Palin's administrative order is still on the books, former Gov. Sean Parnell, and so far Gov. Bill Walker, have ignored it entirely.

It may be too much to hope for, but on an issue so dangerous to the future of human civilization and the biosphere, it would be wonderful if Palin would come back into the light of science and reason, and rejoin society's urgent fight for climate stability, reduced carbon emissions, clean energy, and a sustainable future. Regardless, it is long past time for Walker to attend to this issue with the urgency it demands.

Rick Steiner was a marine conservation professor with the University of Alaska, 1980-2010, stationed in Kotzebue, Cordova and Anchorage. Today he is a conservation adviser with Oasis Earth.

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