Alaska’s Stupid, Self-Destructive Economic Plan

Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index. Black line is 5 year mean

Global Land-Ocean Temperature Index. Black line is 5 year mean

The graph charts the change in global surface temperature relative to 1951-1980 average temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 136-year record all have occurred since 2000, with the exception of 1998. The year 2016 ranks as the warmest on record.

The visual image is even more striking.

Do you see where the global temperature anomalies are greatest in the last 10-15 years of that animation. In the Arctic and Subarctic. Including Alaska. Climate change, based on both computer models and observations on the ground, hits arctic and subarcti regions like Alaska earliest and hardest.

As a consequence of the warming, Alaska’s coastal communities are in immediate danger of destruction. The absence of shore ice increases the rate of coastal erosion The much greater open reaches in the Bering, Chukchi and Beaufort Seas mean larger, more destructive storm waves. Warmer temperatures mean melting permafrost, making it easier for the ocean and rivers to erode. In 2009, the U.S. Geological Survey found, “The rate of coastal erosion more than doubled in Alaska—to as much as 45 feet per year—within the 52-year period between 1955 and 2007 along a 37-mile stretch of the Beaufort Sea, with ice-rich coastal bluffs showing the greatest increase in recent erosion rates.”

Shishmaref Village, 2009 (Photo credit USGS)

Shishmaref Village, 2009 (Photo credit USGS)

Much of Alaska’s infrastructure is built on permafrost; if the permafrost melts, that infrastructure will be damages. The impacts on wildlife like polar bears and seals, and vegetation, are already happening. Climate change is already altering Alaska and the rate of alteration is increasing.

While conspiracty theorists, the fossil fuel industry and their patsies argue otherwise, there is overwhelming evidence that CO2 emissions, largely a result of burning fossil fuels, are driving the global warming. Famously, 97% of climate scientists support man-caused – anthropogenic – climate change from CO2. The greenhouse gas mechanism is well-understood. The increases in global atmospheric CO2 are beyond serious dispute.

Global Carbon Dioxide Levels, 2005-2016 (Source:NASA)

Global Carbon Dioxide Levels, 2005-2016 (Source:NASA)

The impacts of the increased CO2 levels are limited to warming the planet. Higher CO2 levels cause acidification of the oceans. As the oceans become more acidic, marine organisms at the base of the oceanic food chain lose the ability to build their exoskeletons and die off. If those critters die-off, there’s no bait fish. If there’s no bait fish, there’s no salmon, halibut or bottom fish.

So for all kinds of reasons, Alaska needs to be worried about increased CO2 levels. Even if anthropogenic climate change wasn’t a dead certainty – and it is – the risk is so great that Alaska and Alaskans simply cannot afford to take the risk.

And yet Alaska persists in doing everything possible to encourage the fossil fuel industry to extract more coal, crude oil and natural gas, which inevitably pumps more CO2 into the atmosphere and increases Alaska’s risk of irreparable harm.

If you saw a friend engaged in this kind of self-destructive behavior you’d intervene, you’d try to help or get your friend help. You wouldn’t join your friend in self-destruction.

But that’s what Alaskans are doing.

Because jobs. Because oil in the pipeline. Because we don’t want to pay taxes. If you reflect on it for a moment, the excuses are all incredibly short-sighted. Alaska’s children and grandchildren aren’t going to be very happy with us. An intelligent Legislature would be developing Plan B for Alaska’s economy. Governor Walker’s focus on a natural gas pipeline isn’t a viable plan in even the middle term, let alone the long term.

Denial isn’t a useful option.1 Pretending it isn’t happening is not gong to be a successful strategy. Alaska should be a cheerleader for minimizing a mitigating CO2 emissions; instead, it’s a cheerleader for the fossil fuel industry.



  1. Don’t get WC started on the idiocy of the Trump Administration and its folly on climate change. Or that the EPA has scrubbed anthropogenic climate change from it’s website.