Alaska and the world are changing rapidly. In the face of COVID, climate change and economic uncertainty it’s time to do what Alaskans do best: come together and support our neighbors. Alaskans are harnessing local ingenuity for economic, ecological and social well-being while providing stable, quality livelihoods. Alaska Native communities are especially well-poised to inform new ways with old wisdoms, leading with the cultural wealth and knowledge of millennia of relationship with Alaska’s lands and waters. The following real-life innovations, already underway, cross diverse economic sectors and regions of our state in renewable energy, food production, ecotourism, broadband and workforce development — visit AKNextEconomy.com to read more and connect.
Clean and affordable energy is good for us, our pocketbooks and the planet. “Alaska’s natural, renewable energy resource endowment is three times larger than the entire United States energy consumption. The benefits of accelerating transition to develop those natural resources include jobs, lower energy prices, higher energy security,” said Mark Foster, MAFA Energy Consulting.
The Alaska Food Hub provides an easy place to buy local food, “like a virtual farmer’s market,” according to Robbi Mixon, also with the Alaska Food Policy Council. Plus, shopping locally is a great way to boost our economy: For every dollar spent at Alaskan-owned businesses, three times more value is retained in Alaska.
Alaska Native kelp farmers are showing how an emerging ocean kelp farming industry harvests social and ecological returns on investment. A recent proposal projects that kelp can become a $100 million industry per year. “Kelp is a super food that is excellent for our bodies and has significant benefits for the planet,” said Skye Steritz, a kelp farmer at Noble Ocean Farms.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the importance of a homegrown tourism industry that caters to independent travelers, while keeping profits in Alaska. “Regenerative tourism is a holistic approach to tourism. It proactively works to improve ecosystems, elevate local economies and promote meaningful and responsible visitor experiences” said Mary Goddard, who works as a Regional Catalyst at Allen Marine.
The Akiak Native Community is now providing high-speed internet to their village and is helping other tribes do the same. Even just a 1% increase in Alaskan broadband could mean $67.7 million for our economy and 1,890 new jobs. “Once every Alaskan has the ability to engage in the global digital economy, our state will flourish,” said Brittany Woods-Orrisson, with Alaska Public Interest Research Group and Native Movement.
Workforce development can smooth the shift away from resource extraction and ensure that Alaskans have good-paying jobs. Apprenticeships offer an avenue for worker education for “those journeymen to be able to build the necessary jobs in the energy sectors,” said Ryan Andrew, Assistant Business Manager at International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) 1547.
Climate change threatens our economy with floods, landslides, fires, coastal erosion, infrastructure failure and declining fisheries. Alaska’s dependence on resource extraction and deference to large corporate interests may have brought a rapid influx of wealth to some over the past 50 years, but did so at the expense of economic diversity and stability, not to mention the health of Alaska’s lands, waters, and communities. These industries constrain our state. As we reduce greenhouse gas emissions across all sectors of our economy, we make space to create a sustainable and flourishing economy.
These are just some of the ways Alaskans already lead the way toward a prosperous Alaskan economy that will enable future generations to enjoy the ways of life we cherish. We are ready to build an economy that is sustainable, equitable and thriving for all Alaskans.
Ruth Łchav’aya K’isen Miller, the Climate Justice Director for Native Movement, was raised in Dgheyay Kaq’ (Anchorage). Margi Dashevsky, the Regenerative Economies Coordinator for the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, was raised in Tanan (Fairbanks).
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