Alaska has been in crisis for the past several years — brought about by a failed financial model and a lack of long-term vision. Alaskans, including myself, are frustrated by a lack of solutions in addressing this crisis, and on Nov. 8 we voted for new state leadership. Alaska now has a state House that will work for solutions, which will be vital as the federal landscape shifts under the president-elect.
At The Alaska Center, our vision is a thriving and sustainable Alaska for future generations. We engage, empower and elect Alaskans who stand up for clean air and water, healthy communities and a strong democracy. We believe our future is dependent upon the health of the resources that sustain our diverse cultures and way of life, and the power of people to participate in the decisions that impact our great state.
Alaska's wild salmon are part of our heritage, our identity and our future. People from every political persuasion get excited talking about their connection to salmon — it's food security, culture, family, weekend recreation, tradition and economic livelihood. While Alaskans love our salmon, salmon habitat is threatened by extractive development across the state. When salmon habitat is impacted, the ripple effect on our clean water, hunting and fishing, lands and people is huge.
For the past three years, The Alaska Center has joined thousands of Alaskans in advocating for protection of salmon habitat in the Chuitna River, the Susitna River basin and Bristol Bay — regions that feed thousands of residents, inspire the spirit of locals and tourists alike, support thousands of jobs and provide over $1 billion in economic output.
Climate change has major implications for the long-term health of our salmon runs, and has already significantly impacted our coastal communities and cultures. Alaska has exhausted its reputation as "ground zero" for climate impacts, and we must implement climate solutions by advocating for more clean energy. The Alaska Center has advocated for state legislation to bring more renewable energy online in the Railbelt and investments in programs like the Village Energy Efficiency Program that are proven to reduce consumption and save money. We have also supported legislation that would empower communities to decrease emissions locally, such as the property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs.
But we know it's not enough to advocate for better public policy on these critical issues, and this past legislative session proved that. Ultimately, we will not see enduring impact unless we change how decisions are made. This is why we have worked to replace two major climate deniers in the state Legislature, and it is why we backed an array of Republican, independent and Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate — based on the values we share — who support healthy fisheries and a strong public process.
It's also why we helped elect mayors and assembly members in five boroughs around the state in 2015 and 2016, because we know that with issues as overwhelming as climate change, often real, tangible progress happens at the local level.
And to hold elected leaders accountable, we must ensure that all Alaskans have a voice in the decisions impacting our resources and communities. We supported Ballot Measure 1 to enact Automatic Voter Registration, joining forces with The League of Women Voters, Get Out the Native Vote, NAACP, Great Alaska Schools and many others — reflecting a broad agreement that engaging more people in decisions affecting our state will ultimately lead to a stronger democracy.
A newly minted presidential administration brings the promise of fewer protections for salmon and clean water in Alaska, as well as some potentially catastrophic backpedaling on climate change. Contrasting this is a new bipartisan coalition in the state House that is energized to address our state's challenges.
Alaskans must stand strong in advocating for a fiscal approach that prioritizes investments in our state's most valuable renewable resources, prepares us for the great challenge of climate change, and respects our combined heritage and unique way of life. We cannot be thwarted by the swinging pendulum of federal politics. We are ready to act, and we invite others from Utqiagvik to Juneau to join us in making this positive vision a reality. Our home — and our future — demand it.
Polly Carr is executive director of The Alaska Center and a mother, small business owner and community advocate.
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