Voices of Alaska: Time for conversation on climate change, resource development is now

For too long, there has been an awkwardness in the way Alaskans talk about climate change and resource development in the same conversation. But there is no question on the very real impacts of climate change on Alaskans, nor in the continued need for resource development in this state. This administration voices our commitment to not only deal with the impacts of climate change on the health and safety of our citizens and our environment, but also to provide our people a meaningful future with safe communities, quality education, a strong economy and good jobs. To make progress, we must recognize that both resource development and climate action are key parts of Alaska’s future.

Climate change is affecting Alaskans right now. From erosion forcing entire villages to relocate to infrastructure damage from thawing permafrost, the physical and economic impacts of climate change are hitting Alaska faster and with more severity than most other areas of the world. To underestimate the risks or rate of climate change is to gamble with our children’s futures, and that is not a bet that we are willing to make. According to a 2017 poll, the majority of Alaskans are with me on this, recognizing that the effects of climate change have already begun and require action.

On October 31, 2017, the Governor signed Administrative Order 289, Alaska’s Climate Change Strategy, creating the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team. This team is charged with developing a range of climate solutions that help make wise use of our resources, provide for the health and welfare of Alaskans, preserve the social and cultural fabric of our communities, and meet our responsibilities to future generations. Creating these solutions will push us to build on past successes, using the same ingenuity and teamwork that has defined Alaska’s leadership in energy production.

The question in front of us is not whether we can remain an oil and gas producing state or strengthen our commitment to addressing climate change – we must do both. The state will continue to be an energy producer for as long as there is a market for fossil fuels, and the revenue that comes from our resources will continue to spur economic growth and support essential public services. However, we will not ignore the fact that resource development contributes to climate change through greenhouse gas emissions. We should not use our role as an energy producer to justify inaction or complacency in our response to the complex challenge of climate change. Instead, we must leverage our expertise and resources gained as an industrial leader, creating solutions that empower individuals, communities, and businesses.

A responsible energy transition will help us to envision and create a future for Alaska that is prosperous, just, and competitive in a global marketplace that is increasingly shifting towards renewables and energy efficient technologies. A 2017 report estimated that jobs in the solar and wind energy sectors are growing 12 times as fast as the rest of the U.S. economy. Not only will this energy transition create jobs and investment opportunities, it will also enable communities and regions to take control of their energy systems, reducing costs and increasing local energy security. Alaska has incredible renewable energy resource potential– our economic future must reflect that.

We are confident that together we can have robust discussions, implement meaningful action, and make significant progress in our collective response to climate change. The Governor’s Climate Action Leadership Team has a lot of work ahead, and they will depend on engagement and partnerships with companies, communities, and philanthropic organizations, to ensure that their recommendations reflect a diversity of needs and interests.

Let’s bring this important conversation about Alaska’s unique situation into our work places, our communities and our homes. Our future depends on it.

Bill Walker is a former oil and gas attorney, and the 11th governor of Alaska. Byron Mallott is the Lt. Governor of Alaska, and chair of the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team. For more information http://climatechange.gov.alaska.gov/

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