OPINION: Youth lawsuit against gas line a failure of education

I read with great interest the article on the lawsuit filed by Alaskan young people against the Alaska natural gas pipeline. What was even more interesting was reading the entire brief which was embedded in the article.

It was obviously written by an Outside law firm, Our Children’s Trust, with no real understanding of life in Alaska, particularly in rural Alaska. This lawsuit mill has filed similar suits in all 50 states and federal courts.

Of course the weather has been warming in Alaska and has been affecting Alaskans since 20,000 years ago, when we were in a periodic ice age and ocean levels were 330 feet lower than they are today. The rapid warming causing seas to rise to their present level was far before the industrial age and the burning of fossil fuels.

Today, the argument revolves around how much today’s fuel consumption is adding to that warming. The fatal fallacy in the lawsuit is that blocking the gas line wouldn’t mean even one molecule less CO2 released to the atmosphere. The lawsuit claims that stopping the gas line would prevent “causing at least 2.3 billion metric tons of CO2 of climate pollution.”

This would only be true if the gas used from the Alaska gas line were not replaced by gas from any other fossil fuel project in the world. That is obviously untrue. According to the Biden administration’s Energy Information Agency, in the U.S. alone, there are 220 trillion cubic meters of known reserves, enough to last for 89 years at current consumption rates. Stopping fossil fuel production in Alaska would only compound the damage to Alaska, on top of the climate-related issues raised in the lawsuit.

So, if the U.S. doesn’t need Alaska gas, who does? Japan would be the most likely market, where it would displace coal-fired power plants, reducing the carbon emissions by 60% — a net consumption reduction of 5 billion tons of CO2 emissions. Do the young people named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit think this would be a good thing? Apparently, the suing lawfirm may have never asked them.

I shouldn’t have to say this, but as a matter of basic science, the atmosphere is a universal element of the planet, and reductions anywhere produce benefits everywhere.


One of the young people filing the suit lives in Fairbanks. Delivery of clean-burning natural gas to Fairbanks would displace their current sources of energy, which are diesel fuel and coal. It could also reduce the cost of energy to the people of Fairbanks by about 50%. Likewise, it could stave off cost increases for the consumers of Southcentral Alaska. Would the young people consider that a good thing?

The lawsuit pretends that there are no benefits from access to fossil fuels in rural Alaska. Not a single reference. The lawsuit text complains that one of the young people has to drive further on their snowmachine to access subsistence. Well, what is the fuel that snowmachine uses to facilitate subsistence?

Another plaintiff complains about the local runway being affected by climate change, since it provides critical access to “travel, cargo, health care and medicine.” What is the fuel that powers those critical air operations and the machinery that clears the snow in the winter?

The primary plaintiff in the lawsuit lives in Unalakleet. Her school’s basketball team won six state championships. How does she think the team got to the tournament? Would she agree with Greta Thunberg that you should never fly on a plane as part of Greta’s “flygskam” or “flight shame” campaign? Try telling that to the Unalakleet basketball team and their parents.

Speaking of the Bering Strait school district, where does the money even come from to provide that local school? Of course, it comes from the revenues of fossil fuel production in Alaska. Previously, the students were sent to boarding schools where many were exploited and had their mouths washed out with soap if they spoke their Native language.

The lawsuit text has another plaintiff claiming that climate change is causing river flooding as if this condition never occurred before. This ridiculous claim can be dismissed by watching the documentary “River is Boss” on YouTube, made in Emmonak in the 1970s by Tim Kennedy of the Skyriver project.

The point is, that our education system needs to do a much better job of teaching our students how to consider the risks, costs, benefits and tradeoffs for their own lives in natural resource management decisions. Otherwise they will be subject to manipulation by Outside organizations that are apparently completely ignorant of the ways of life for Alaskans, especially our rural residents. The idealism of youth needs to be tempered by a basic understanding of science and critical thinking.

On balance, the gas line would be overwhelmingly beneficial to Alaskans and to the planet. It has its own share of challenges. This lawsuit should be summarily dismissed.

Paul Fuhs is a former commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce and former mayor of Unalaska.

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Paul Fuhs

Paul Fuhs is a longtime resources and energy development consultant and former mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.