A Few Words for the Republican Caucus

The Second Session of the Alaska Legislature has begun. The Legislature seems steadfastly resolved to do absolutely nothing meaningful about the state’s fiscal crisis, instead addressing sideshow issues. If the pre-filed bills are any indication, the Legislature is going to devote the session to pandering, pointless laws that will only lead to losing litigation and the legislative equivalent of thumb-twiddling.

The fiscal crisis is a BUCIP, a Big, Ugly, Complicated and Intractable Problem. The Legislature doesn’t often deal with BUCIPs because they are hard, and never in an election year because – perish the thought – they might jeopardize their chances of reelection. And among our duly elected representatives, especially those Constitution-loving folks among the Republican majority caucus, reelection trumps less important issues like putting the state in a recession.

All right. If the Republican loonies don’t want to address the fiscal crisis, there’s another, equally urgent BUCIP confronting the State of Alaska: climate change.

This image made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows warmer- or cooler-than-normal temperatures around the world for January through November 2015. NOAA via AP

This image made available by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration shows warmer- or cooler-than-normal temperatures around the world for January through November 2015. NOAA via AP

Consider the introduction to a 2006 paper on the reality of shrinking ponds in sub-Arctic Alaska.

Recent environmental changes associated with climate warming at high latitudes have been summarized [Serreze et al., 2000Overland et al., 20022004Hinzman et al., 2005] and include abiotic changes such as reduction in annual snow cover [Brown and Goodison, 1996Brown and Braaten, 1998], reduction in sea ice extent [Bjørgo et al., 1997Cavalieri et al., 1997], warming and thawing of permafrost [Osterkamp and Romanovsky, 1999Camill, 2005], increased thermokarsting [Jorgenson et al., 2001], warming of lake water [Hobbie et al., 2003], and earlier spring river and lake ice break-up [Keyser et al., 2000Magnuson et al., 2000]. Biotic changes at high latitudes have also occurred including expansion of boreal forest into tundra [Suarez et al., 1999], increased shrubbiness in tundra [Chapin et al., 1995Sturm et al., 2001], expansion of shrubs into drying lake beds [Klein et al., 2005], and increased growing season and primary production [Zhou et al., 2001Stow et al., 2003].

[3] In subarctic interior Alaska, the growing season climate regime switched from a predominantly cool and moist to hot and dry after a Pacific-wide regime shift in 1977 [Mantua et al., 1997Hare et al., 1999Hare and Mantua, 2000Dickson, 2000]. On the basis of tree-ring reconstructed climate and recorded summer temperature observations, some of the warmest summers over the past 200 years in interior Alaska have occurred since the 1970s, while the coolest growing seasons occurred in the early to mid 1900s [Barber et al., 2004]. On the basis of tree-ring analysis, drought stress associated with a warming climate in Alaska may be widespread at nontreeline sites [Barber et al., 2000Lloyd and Fastie, 2002Wilmking et al., 2004].

Here’s a recap: 10 years ago science knew that anthropogenic climate change was real, that it was quickly and dramatically altering Alaska in very serious ways. Ten years ago the reality of climate change was so clear that the matter could be discussed and summarized in the introduction to a peer-reviewed and published paper. Ten years ago it was completely clear that impact of climate change was impacting Alaska first and hardest.

The Legislature immediately sprang into. . . inaction. And for the last ten years the Alaska Legislature has followed that path of complete inaction, denial, obfuscation and posturing. All of the Koch Brothers’ inspired “climate uncertainty” drivel. Never mind that the Koch Brothers shafted Interior Alaska by closing the North Pole Refinery, the largest employer in Senator Pete Kelly’s district. Senator Kelly still sucks the Koch Brothers sugar tit, because otherwise he might not be reelected.

2015 was the hottest year on record; it’s not even close. We can be pretty certain the Republican majority caucus will continue its agressive plan of inaction and obfuscation even so. Because otherwise, they fear, they might not get reelected. Which, to WC, is the best possible reason to help them achieve their fears.