An Alaskan Plan to Tackle Climate Change

Less than a week after Governor Bill Walker appointed me to the Alaska Climate Action Leadership Team, I attended our first meeting in Anchorage. The participants reflected Governor Walker and Lt. Governor Mallot’s commitment to hearing from a rich diversity of other Alaskan voices from across our nation’s biggest state.

Together, we represented different geographic, cultural and educational backgrounds brought together and united by a common cause—our commitment to helping our state chart a path forward to take action on climate change, one of the biggest challenges of our time. In my view, action is needed urgently especially as President Trump and other national political leaders seek to undermine science and undo progress on addressing global climate change.

In Alaska, we are seeing and experiencing the effects of changing climate first-hand. Our lands and waters are changing and, with those changes, come significant impacts on our communities, economy and very way of life.

Villages are falling into the ocean. Unreliable sea ice is disrupting subsistence hunting practices that have existed for millennia. Unusual weather events are becoming more common. The changes in Utqiaġvik (Barrow) were so rapid that models developed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration flagged the relevant data as unreal and excluded it from the associated databases. The recently released 2017 Arctic Report Card calls this the “new normal,” marked by a rapid decline in sea-ice and increasingly warm ocean waters at rate that has not been seen in at least the last 1,500 years.

What can we do and how best can we prepare to adapt to our rapidly changing world? Well, that was part of the discussion at the meeting. We talked about building resilience for our communities, about becoming a world leader in renewable sources of energy, about scientific research to guide sustainable, forward-looking choices, and about the specific actions that can further those goals.

I was particularly inspired by the concept of One Health, which recognizes that the health of the environment and people really is the same—healthy communities are part of healthy ecosystems and vice versa. It is a holistic approach that is very relevant in Alaska and the Arctic. The resilience of communities and ecosystems are interdependent and, really, indistinguishable in many ways.

I am proud to serve on this inclusive team that will strive to guide state action to address climate change from a unified, Alaskan viewpoint, not as a partisan political issue. We will build on previous efforts by former Governor Sarah Palin and the Alaska Arctic Policy Committee. While the task ahead is immensely challenging, I am optimistic that we are taking steps in the right direction.

I’ll be sharing regular updates from our progress so watch this space!

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