What others say: Walker juggles economy and climate

  • By Fairbanks Daily News-Miner Editorial
  • Wednesday, November 8, 2017 9:36pm
  • Opinion

These two items at first seem incompatible: establishing a climate change strategy and task force in the office of the Alaska governor on Tuesday, and the Alaska governor lobbying Congress two days later to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil production.

And yet that is what Gov. Bill Walker did this past week.

His challenge with this two-headed approach of climate consciousness and seeking oil production from ANWR and elsewhere in the state will be to accomplish the former without harming the latter.

It won’t be easy.

The near- and long-term future of Alaska’s economy — and of the pocketbooks and stability of Alaska workers, of the businesses that employ them, and of Alaska families — require that the governor lean toward efforts that will grow the oil and gas industry in the state.

This isn’t to say that efforts to cope with climate change shouldn’t occur. They should. But those efforts can’t be of such an extent that they hogtie the industry on which the state government and numerous businesses rely.

It’s well-known, or should be, that the state government had insufficient revenue to cover its expenses for the current fiscal year and had to take a few billion from its reserves to balance the budget. That problem is going to persist unless a few things change, one of which is the level of oil production in Alaska.

The governor hints at this fiscal reality several times in the text of his order establishing the Alaska Climate Change Strategy and the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team.

The order states that solutions for coping with climate change “require creating a vision for Alaska’s future that incorporates long-term climate goals, yet recognizes the need for non-renewable resources to meet current economic and energy requirements during a transition to a renewable energy based future.”

It states that Alaska “may also engage with national and international partners to seek collaborative solutions to climate change that support the goals of the United Nations 2015 Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No. 13, ‘Climate Action,’ while also pursuing new opportunities to keep Alaska’s economy competitive in the transition to a sustainable future.”

It adds that the governor’s new climate strategy “provides a framework for developing innovative solutions to the challenges of a rapidly changing climate, informed by the best available science and technology, integration of indigenous and local knowledge, and consideration of Alaska’s economic interests.”

The effects of climate change in Alaska can’t be denied.

A climate change assessment released Friday by the administration of President Donald Trump, and required by law, clearly states that “Residents of Alaska are on the front lines of climate change. Crumbling buildings, roads, and bridges and eroding shorelines are commonplace.”

It states that “The incidence of large forest fires in the western United States and Alaska has increased since the early 1980s (high confidence) and is projected to further increase in those regions as the climate warms, with profound changes to certain ecosystems (medium confidence).”

It adds that “Rising Alaskan permafrost temperatures are causing permafrost to thaw and become more discontinuous; this process releases additional carbon dioxide and methane resulting in additional warming (high confidence)” and that “…it is clear that these emissions have the potential to compromise the ability to limit global temperature increases.”

It goes on.

The opening of that federal climate assessment states clearly that humans have been a key factor in the warming: “This assessment concludes, based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

Climate change is real, as evidenced by the report released by the Trump administration.

The task for Gov. Walker and his eventual successors is to successfully deal with the effects of that climate change while also growing the state economy.

— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,

Nov. 5

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