Opinions

OPINION: Nature is telling us it’s time to act on climate

East Fork backing fire

The impact of higher temperatures has been growing more apparent each year in Alaska, but this summer takes the cake for the wackiest weather and wildfire behavior we’ve seen in our lifetimes. How many more signs do we need before we get serious on climate?

In Anchorage, the third driest June on record was followed by the fifth wettest July on record, with July 19 setting a new record for daily precipitation. Some 17,774 lightning strikes were detected across the state from July 2 to July 4, the highest ever total recorded in a 48-hour period since the Bureau of Land Management began such monitoring in 2013.

Meanwhile, drought conditions fueled abnormally large early season wildfires in southwest Alaska. Bristol Bay region has burned nearly 650 square miles so far this year. That’s more land burned in 2022 than in the previous 72 years combined.

As large blazes in our tundra ecosystems have become routine, more of our lands have become vulnerable to wildfire. Though the season may be winding down, we’ve already surpassed 3 million acres burned across the state. That has only happened five times since records began in 1950.

I don’t need to tell you how crazy weather patterns and extreme environmental conditions are having an increasingly stark and negative impact on Alaskans’ daily life — not to mention our health, safety and economic opportunities. But here are a couple sobering facts to paint the picture.

This year’s Yukon River summer chum salmon run was the second lowest on record, prompting state fish and game managers to prohibit all subsistence fishing for fall chum salmon until the population recovers. What a blow to those communities for whom Yukon fish serves as a critical food source.

Wildfire smoke, too, is morphing from a localized, occasional nuisance into a real health hazard. In July, Nome was blanketed in thick smoke from wildfires some 400 miles away, plunging air quality to levels never documented before in the city. Meanwhile, Fairbanks was forced to cancel events due to poor air quality in June.

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Despite all these flashing alerts from the natural world, we still lack a coherent U.S. strategy to address climate. The new climate spending that President Joe Biden just signed into law is a good start. But despite its huge price tag, it won’t accomplish nearly enough to ward off the climate impacts we’re seeing every day in Alaska. It’s time for a different approach.

As we saw with last year’s infrastructure law, bipartisanship is the key to real, lasting solutions that are going to make a much bigger difference for Alaska. Sen. Lisa Murkowski served as a key member of the bipartisan group that shaped that legislation, which has so far delivered $1.7 billion in projects to Alaska. We need to apply this same bipartisan playbook to climate. Bipartisan climate action is how we can force foreign emissions cuts, turbocharge American innovation of lower-carbon fuels and technologies, and promote the production of clean U.S. energy right here in Alaska. I’m confident that newly elected Rep. Mary Peltola is ready to lead and legislate in a bipartisan fashion, and I look forward to her leadership as we chart a path forward on bipartisan climate solutions.

One commonsense proposal that is gaining bipartisan steam in Washington is a border carbon adjustment to hold other countries accountable for their emissions. This tool would charge a fee on the carbon content of goods entering our borders, giving U.S. producers — who are among the cleanest in the world — a leg up over high-polluting foreign competitors.

Importantly, this policy would encourage more production from Alaska’s oil and gas industry, which is among the most efficient and environmentally responsible in the world. It would do so by penalizing some of the world’s worst environmental performers — Russia and China — who are costing us jobs and business while serving as destabilizing forces in the world. This is how we prioritize clean U.S. energy, create opportunity for hardworking Alaskans, strengthen our national security, and help the climate at the same time.

I’ll say it again: Bipartisanship is the missing ingredient we need to unlock bold solutions that can deliver lasting progress for Alaska — and the climate. It’s past time that we started to work together on the big ideas that can drive down global emissions and restore balance to our natural world.

Daniel Volland is an optometrist and small-business owner. He also represents North Anchorage on the Anchorage Assembly.

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