Watching Alaska Commit Suicide

It is painful to watch the state WC loves commit suicide. WC doesn’t mean to trivialize or misuse the term “suicide” here, because that’s what it is.

Consider: according to the most recent reports, Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the United States from 1949–2011.1  Statewide, the average annual air temperature has increased by 3°F and the average winter temperature has increased by 6°F since the 1950s.2

The average annual precipitation has increased statewide by approximately 10% in recent decades.3 Extreme precipitation events, which are defined as the heaviest 1% of 3-day precipitation totals in each calendar year, have increased in the spring in the southeast and west-central portions of the state. The northern region has experienced a decrease in extreme precipitation events in all seasons except fall. All regions in Alaska, except the Arctic, have seen an increase in extreme precipitation events during the summer months.4

Based on satellite-based sea ice records, which began in 1979, end of summer sea ice from 2007–2012 was lower than any prior time.[^5]  The average annual Arctic sea ice extent has decreased 3.5–4.1% per decade since 1979.[^6] In 2012, the September sea ice coverage was roughly 50% less than in the 1980s.

March and September Monthly Average Sea Ice Extent, 1979-2016; Source: EPA Climate Change Indicators, 2016

March and September Monthly Average Sea Ice Extent, 1979-2016; Source: EPA Climate Change Indicators, 2016

What sea ice remains is also younger and thinner, which makes that sea ice more vulnerable to summer melt, than any time on record.[^7]

Alaska is experiencing the fastest loss of glacier ice on Earth.]^8] According to the National Climate Assessment, “from 2005 to 2010, Alaskan glacier losses made up one-third of the world’s ice sheet losses, even though Alaska has 20 times fewer ice-covered than Greenland.”[^9]  Alaska’s glaciers lose approximately 75 gigatons of water each year, which contributes 0.008 inches to the global annual sea level rise.[^10]

Permafrost is critical for the basic existence of many communities and ecosystems in Alaska. Because eighty percent of Alaska is underlain by permafrost, and seventy percent of this land is vulnerable to subsidence (caving in or sinking), if the permafrost becomes unstable.[^11] As temperatures have increased, permafrost has begun to thaw. Since the 1970s, permafrost near the Arctic coast has warmed 4–5°F at the 65-foot depth.[^12] In 2016, record high temperatures were observed at the 20 meter depth at all permafrost observatories on Alaska’s North Slope, with the exception of Deadhorse.[^13]

Everyone not utterly beholden to the fossil fuel industry – and the fossil fuel industry has bought a depressing number of Alaska politicians — understands that this demonstrable, observed climate change is driven by CO2 and methane emissions from the burning and escape of fossil fuels.5 More CO2, more warming. More warming that impacts Alaska first and worst.

Each barrel of crude oil produced in Alaska and shipped down the TransAlaska Pipeline means about another 1,000 pounds of CO2 injected into the atmosphere. Each barrel of crude oil produced means that much more damage to Alaska. It’s a slow form of suicide.

The State of Alaska Department of Health and Social Services issued an Assessment of the Potential Health Impacts of Climate Change in Alaska on January 8, 2018. It makes depressing reading. There are going to be vast health impacts. Villages are going to be lost to the Beaufort, Chukchi and Bering Seas, as well as to rivers changing channels in response to permafrost melt. There’s not much that can be done at the local level about those losses.

But the first rule of holes is that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. Alaska, unwilling to develop a sensible taxation system, is committing a slow suicide, destroying villages, infrastructure and species rather than face reality. What can you call if but suicide?



  1.  EPA Climate Impacts, 2016; Chapin et al., 2014. 
  2.  Chapin et al., 2014. 
  3.  Stewart et al., 2013. 
  4.  Stewart et al., 2013. 

One thought on “Watching Alaska Commit Suicide

  1. WC
    It may be an assisted suicide. Coincidentally, today I heard on NPR’s The World a report that the Trump admin is removing or making inaccessible climate data that used to be prominently available on the EPA’s website and more data on international aspects that were readily available at the US State Dept’s website. The report indicated that State has simply removed the data that it used to show relating to international conditions, while EPA has archived the data that was featured prominently under the Obama admin’s special initiative. The show then made specific reference to the utility of these data for remote Alaska villages and sites that are endangered by climate change. It noted also that the EPA’s archiving action for all intents made the data inaccessible in fact because too many Alaska remote sites continue to depend on dial-up service. So finding the archived data/site is a time consuming challenge by dial up and then navigating the data on s..l..o..w dial up also complicated use of the information.
    I tried to find a link to the NPR report but it’s not showing yet at the NPR The World site. Maybe it’ll be there tomorrow or later, as the latest report that it featured was dated yesterday, January 9th.

    Paul Eaglin

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