Alaska, more than any other state, needs COP26 to be successful

Make no mistake: We cannot “avoid” climate change.

State Rep. Zack Fields

State Rep. Zack Fields

By Zack Fields

World leaders are meeting in Glasgow, Scotland, half a world away. Many of the issues debated in that conference — emissions from developing countries, deforestation in the Amazon, are equally distant from our state. Yet Alaska more than any other state needs this climate conference to be successful, and for world leaders to adopt aggressive and binding goals to mitigate the worst of the climate crisis.

Make no mistake: We cannot “avoid” climate change. I remember talking with subsistence hunters on St. Lawrence Island more than five years ago, who said they first noticed the retreat of sea ice and impacts on walrus hunts in 1957. Southeast Alaska fisheries have already been decimated by warming seas and depleted oxygen levels. This year’s “heat dome,” in which temperatures well above 100 degrees literally cooked shellfish in Pacific Northwest waters, was a grave warning of things to come for our state and our nascent shellfish industries, if the world doesn’t get its act together and dramatically reduce emissions.

For too many years, the media treated climate change as a phenomenon that primarily affects glaciers and polar bears. Nope. Our resource-based economy is intimately connected to temperatures and carbon concentration in our waters. Our tourism-based economy depends on stable and functioning ecosystems. Yet the climate is changing so fast that it’s setting loose landslides that are closing the park road in Denali, and threaten unprecedented landslides and tsunamis in Prince William Sound. The ice road season for oil development is shrinking fast, and widespread permafrost melt is adding to costs for state agencies, homeowners, and private business owners from Bethel to Glennallen.

In the national media, climate issues are sometimes treated as a resources versus conservation question. As Alaskans, we know this simply isn’t accurate. We need work maintaining the trans-Alaska pipeline, exploring for and developing oil in the Arctic, subsistence and commercial fishing from Norton Sound to Southeast, and operating the myriad private businesses that depend on Alaska’s large and diverse tourism industry.

Alaska’s conventional oil fields have far lower carbon intensity than the oil sands of Canada or Texas’ shale fields. We can and will continue to produce oil — profitably — while our transportation sector integrates electric vehicles at an unprecedented scale.

It would be a false choice to suggest we must abandon certain jobs or industries in Alaska to reach the greenhouse gas reduction targets world leaders are negotiating now. For Alaska’s diverse economy to grow sustainably, we need a stable climate, which in turn requires sharp reductions in global emissions.

Are such reductions possible? Absolutely, and many of the innovations that prove change is possible have been pioneered in our state. Kodiak began transitioning to nearly 100% renewable energy 20 years ago.

State Rep. Zack Fields is a Democratic representative for District 20 in Anchorage.

More in Opinion

Dr. Jay Butler, former chief medical officer for the State of Alaska, is seen in this undated photo. (Courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID vaccines

The COVID vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish.

A resident casts their vote in the regular municipal election Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020 at the Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds in Ninilchik, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Voices of the Peninsula: All votes matter

In the beginning, only property-holding white men could vote.

Cristen San Roman. (Photo provided)
Point of View: Is management of Cook Inlet catered to special interest groups?

If these fish are so at risk, why is BOEM able to move forward with lease sale 258?

Homer Foundation
Point of View: Grateful for the hidden ‘good’

Gratitude: Noun The state of being grateful; thankfulness. The state or quality… Continue reading

Homer High School Principal Douglas Waclawski. (Photo provided)
Point of View: What is Homer High School about?

What I consider Homer High’s strength is that we are a place for learning.

UAA Chancellor Sean Parnell. (courtesy photo)
Alaska Voices: Invent your future at UAA

At UAA we’re providing the tools to help students of all ages and skills chart a new course forward.

A registered nurse prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at the pop-up clinic on the Spit on May 27. (Photo by Sarah Knapp/Homer News)
Alaska Voices: Vaccination is the still best protection from COVID-19

The Alaska State Medical Association encourages you to protect yourselves and your community from preventable illness by getting recommended vaccines.

(Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
The sad diminishment of Rep. Don Young

Young seems afraid to demand his party leader defend the dignity of the institution he loves.

A “Vote Here” sign is seen at the City of Kenai building on Monday, Sept. 21, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Clarion file)
Alaska Voices: Restore our strong campaign donation limits

Without campaign spending limits, the ideal of one person, one vote is no longer really true.

The Final Redistricting Map approved for the Anchorage and Matanuska-Susitna area is seen on Nov. 9, 2021. (Map via akredistrict.org)
Alaska Voices: The Alaska Redistricting Board’s last-minute gerrymandering failed Alaska

Our Constitution outlines rules for a redistricting process designed to uphold public trust.

This photo shows the trans-Alaska pipeline and pump station north of Fairbanks. (AP Photo/Al Grillo)
Alaska Voices: The permanent fund has been taking care of Alaskans for 45 years

It’s the largest sovereign wealth fund in the nation, the pride of Alaska and this month we celebrate its 45th anniversary.

Dr. Tom Hennessy, MD, MPH (Courtesy)
Voices of the Peninsula: Don’t take medical advice from politicians, athletes or social media

Evidence leads to consensus among medical doctors: Vaccines are the best way to prevent infection.