OPINION: Convening Alaskans to spark climate dialogues

As Alaskans, we are on the front lines of climate and adaptation. Nearly every community across the state has felt its impacts — from salmon declines to disappearing glaciers to the displacement of entire communities. In light of the pressing challenges climate change presents, we were honored to join The Nature Conservancy in Alaska, or TNC, at two recent events in the Alaska Climate Talks series. Broadly, the series centers around the goal of engaging diverse coalitions of Alaskans to share perspectives, foster solutions, and ultimately advance bipartisan, effective and comprehensive climate policy. TNC hosted two events, one in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks, that convened Alaskan thought leaders on issues relating to climate change.

The event in Fairbanks, hosted at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, featured panelists central to the Interior’s conversation on climate change. Under the banner of “Diverse Perspectives on Climate: Prioritizing People and Place,” University of Alaska President Pat Pitney was joined by Fairbanks North Star Borough Mayor Bryce Ward, Chief Scientist of the International Arctic Research Center John Walsh, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Regional Director Bruno Grunau, and University of Alaska Fairbanks graduate student Nathan Baring. The audience, which included representatives from the Fairbanks Climate Action Coalition, local Indigenous groups and members of the public, inspired vibrant discussion about the climate issues facing the region, specifically regarding the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s climate plan, local and state politics, and the future of bipartisan energy and climate policy.

A few weeks later, hosted at 49th State Brewing, the Anchorage event highlighted the economic realities of climate in Alaska. Moderated by TNC’s state director Ivy Spohnholz, the panel’s insightful conversation featured remarks from ANTHC Director of Climate Initiatives Jackie Qataliña Schaeffer, Penny Gage with Launch Alaska, Anchorage Assembly Member Dr. Daniel Volland, State Representative Calvin Schrage, and Pt Capital President Hugh Short.

We joined these panels to spark essential conversations aimed at addressing these challenges we see every day. Our various contributions as panelists resulted in shared knowledge, solution collaboration, and strategy development that are central to addressing climate change in Alaska and mitigate its most dire consequences. Further, the focus on local experts aims to engage communities instead of talking over them, giving us all a better chance to develop solutions that truly effect positive change. As our state experiences first-hand the impacts of climate change, from melting permafrost to increasingly severe storms, it is crucial that we come together to tackle the challenges of climate change head-on.

Alaska offers a unique perspective on the challenges of adaptation in a rapidly changing world. However, we also have the chance to lead the rest of the country — and the world — in the opportunities and innovation needed to address climate change. As such, we also invite you to be part of this effort and join TNC in their important work across the state. By coming together as experts with deep, enduring ties to Alaska and communities across the state, we have the chance to ensure a more comprehensive understanding of the challenges individual communities face when it comes to climate change.

Rep. Calvin Schrage is a member of the Alaska State Legislature.

Bryce Ward is the mayor of Fairbanks North Star Borough.


Bruno Grunau is the regional director of NREL’s Cold Climate Housing Research Center.

Nathan Baring is a graduate student in Arctic Studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Penny Gage is the managing director of Launch Alaska.

Dr. Daniel Volland is a member of the Anchorage Assembly.

Hugh Short is the president of Pt Capital.

The Nature Conservancy in Alaska’s Alaska Climate Opportunities Assessment is an ongoing effort in which Alaskan leaders and stakeholder groups are engaging on climate, the opportunities arising due to climate, bipartisan solutions and the long-term health of the Last Frontier. Learn more about the Alaska Climate Opportunities Assessment at the Nature Conservancy’s website.

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