Alaska is big. It’s one-fifth the size of the combined U.S. lower 48 states. It’s located so far north, it allows the U.S. to be considered one of eight Arctic nations. Alaska has more coastline, more protected areas, and higher rates of climate change than any other place in the United States. This means actions in Alaska have to be bigger than our challenges. They have to reach across broad and diverse geographies, human cultures and communities, and reflect the needs of all people in a time of dynamic changes.
Alaska is America’s front line for climate change as one of the fastest regions of warming on Earth. Sea ice is retreating, fisheries are moving, Indigenous Peoples communities are flooding and relocating, and Alaska’s wildlife populations are in peril. Climate change will be costly, with estimates of $3–$6 billion needed annually to account for need-based resources to mitigate and adapt to current climate change challenges and those in the near future.
The time for climate change action in Alaska is now. On October 9, 2019, sixteen youth argued in the Alaska Supreme Court that Alaska has adopted an energy policy that promotes fossil fuels and contributes to climate change. They want the state supreme court to advance their case based on the grounds that these fossil fuel promoting energy policies endanger their lives and violate their constitutional right to a safe climate.
On October 10, 2019, the National Audubon Society, with a state office in Alaska and a membership and staff comprised of Alaskans across the state, released Survival by Degrees. The report summarizes scientific evidence for the loss of millions of birds in the future if we do not act now on climate change. Alaska will simultaneously become a refuge for many birds as their ranges push north, while also facing the extinction of species that cannot adapt to these changes. These birds not only represent what ecological diversity will be lost, but also the losses in regional economics and food security across the state for communities that rely on birds for tourism opportunities, traditional and cultural food resources, hunting, and enjoyment. Survival by Degrees is a blueprint for why we need to take action now on climate change.
Action is possible! The impacts of climate change should NOT leave us hopeless and lost. Instead, we have the resources, the mobilization efforts, and in Alaska, with the pending formation of the House of Representatives Committee on Climate Change, the legislative momentum to cement Alaska’s place as a leader on climate change action in the United States.
Alaskans, you can help right now. Write your legislators to support House Resolution 12 (HR 12) which will establish a House special committee on climate change. We should then ask for a similar committee in the Alaska state senate. We should also continue to support our young activists on the front lines, take the time to understand the science that creates our roadmap to action, and do activities in our daily lives to reduce our own footprints on this changing planet.