“Alaska: The Last Frontier” is so eerily echoing of The Final Frontier. And, as with ever so many episodes of Star Trek: The Final Frontier, The Last Frontier is seeing a struggle that could have life-or-death implications for a planet.
At this time, the U.S. Senate is the roadblock between U.S. action (even if inadequate) and inaction when it comes to climate change mitigation and the development of a comprehensive approach to global warming. The 2010 election looks likely to change this dynamic for the worse, moving even more Senate seats into the hands of anti-science syndrome sufferers.
Alaska’s 2010 Senate battle is, in some ways, a microcosm of the national struggle over the extent to which respect for science and scientists matters to the U.S. political system and the place of science in American life. In short, in Alaska, we see a (potential) Climate Hero battling against a Climate Peacock and a Climate Zombie.
- The Democratic Party nominee, Scott McAdams, is a potential Climate Hero. While he supports exploitation of Alaska’s resources, those resources are not defined simply in carbon terms for him. He supports serious investment in clean energy, defending one of the most cost-effective legislative actions in US history (the Clean Air Act), and developing a path toward a sustainable future.
- The write-in candidate, fallen Republican angel Lisa Murkowski, is a Climate Peacock who acknowledges climate change and that humanity contributes to it, but undermines any serious effort to address climate change or mitigation. (Murkowski might, in fact, be defined as a ‘fallen Climate Peacock’, tending toward Climate Zombie, because Murkowski’s efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act into the Dirty Air Act go directly against using science to support decisions about public policy.)
- The tea party-ite Republican candidate, Joe Miller, is an out-and-out Climate Zombie, parroting talking points worthy of leading scientific luminaries like Jim Inhofe (R-Exxon) and George Will-ful Deceit Will.
While Alaska might be nicknamed The Last Frontier, it is on the front lines of climate chaos, seeing the most dramatic temperature shifts in the United States and, quite literally, already having lost villages to climate change. As USA Today put it years ago, “Alaska the ‘poster state’ for climate concerns“.
Alaska’s climate has warmed about 4°F since the 1950’s and 7°F in the interior during winter. The state experienced a 30% average increase in precipitation between 1968 and 1990. The growing season has lengthened by two weeks. Sea ice has retreated by 14% since 1978 and thinned by 60% since the 1960s with widespread effects on marine ecosystems, coastal climate, and human settlements. Permafrost melting has caused erosion, landslides and damaged infrastructure in central and southern Alaska. Recent warming has been accompanied by “unprecedented increases in forest disturbances, including insect attacks. A sustained infestation of spruce bark beetles, which in the past have been limited by cold, has caused widespread tree deaths over 2.3 million acres on the Kenai Peninsula since 1992, the largest loss to insects ever recorded in North America. (US Global Change Research Program, National Assessment, 2001).
And, well, the situation has gotten more striking in the decade since.
Despite the reality of a changing Alaska, Republican Joe Miller states that “We haven’t heard there’s man-made global warming.” Well, Climate Zombie Joe, perhaps because you’re not listening …
In the face of a changing Alaska, Senator Lisa Murkowski made noise about the need to address human impacts on a changing climate but, when push came to shove, opposed any and every serious effort to actually do climate mitigation that would improve the American economy, put people to work, and reduce future risks due to climate chaos. When it comes down to it, her most notable legislative action was to fight (unsuccessfully to date) to undermine the incredibly cost-effective ($10s to $100s of benefits for every $1 of costs) Clean Air Act.
Now, not only are Murkowski and Miller out-of-step with science, they are out-of-step with Alaskans. From a 2006 report on polling Alaskans about Global Warming (31 page pdf):
Over 81% of Alaskans are convinced that global warming is happening. A majority (55%) believe it is caused primarily by human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels, as opposed to normal cycles in the earth’s environment (37%). Most Alaskans believe global warming is already causing or accelerating the loss of sea ice (83%) melting permafrost (82%), coastal erosion (74%), and forest fires (72%) in Alaska, among other impacts. A large majority (67%) report that their local temperatures have increased, while 93% of people who have noticed local temperature changes say that global warming is at least partly responsible. Two out of three Alaskans (67%) say that global warming will be bad for Alaska, while 26% say it will be good. Majorities of Alaskans believe that global warming is a serious threat to themselves and their family (55%), their local community (59%), other countries (68%), Alaska as a whole (71%), the United States (71%), and plants and animals (76%).
Looking at those polls, it looks like the Tea Party Republican Miller represents minority opinion … sort of like Republicans nationwide.
When it comes to this arena, Democratic Party candidate Scott McAdams seems much more closely aligned with Alaskans’ viewpoints, Alaskan interests, and actual scientific discussion. From something McAdams wrote in early August, Moving beyond “Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill” in Alaska
We see the bumper stickers all over Alaska. To tourists and visitors, such might seem backward, crude or comical. To outside progressive eyes, the text might appear hopelessly Palinesque and reinforce all the negative stereotypes her bizarre rise to national prominence have cast on our great state. To many Alaskan’s, the phrase “Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill” is a rebel yell aimed at outside Governmental interests who manage much of a huge landmass that is less than 1% privately owned. To many of us, it is also a declaration of hope to earn a living, raise a family, and build a community.
We are a resource state, and for a generation, our most important resource has been oil. Over 85% of the State of Alaska’s annual budget is built from oil revenues, and the major oil fields of the North Slope have long since past peak production. The clock on Alaska’s ability to provide for itself is ticking. Alaskans wonder if our next cut, kill, dig or drill will sustain a new generation.
Many of our political leaders have worked hard to condition us to believe that the only way we will survive is if we do business the same old way, elect corporate loyalists to office to battle federal management agencies, and sell the farm to London and Houston in order to spur resource development. I say the Lisa Murkowski model of developing Alaska for the benefit of big oil will not work and will not sell to the American people in the 21st century, and that our state’s economic security depends on immediate political change.
Now is the time to boldly proclaim that Alaska must become the laboratory and incubator for an American energy revolution. Today in Alaska, unrivaled renewable energy potential sits stranded in the tide, wind, rain and ground. Today in Alaska, as a latter day state, we neither enjoy the benefits nor endure the scars of having been developed during the industrial revolution, and it is only fair that we stand ready to benefit from the first fruits of America’s next great era of imagination, creativity and industry. Today in Alaska, with new leadership fighting corporate tax giveaways and making it possible, we can use any new federal oil developed on federal land in Alaska as a cash machine to convert 150 stand alone community utilities to clean energy.
The things we will learn, the challenges we will overcome, the innovations we will make during this conversion could provide a blueprint to the world. The jobs we will create, the capital we will attract and the enduring savings we will provide our communities will greatly enhance our quality of life. Lets do this together, move beyond talk, and prove what is possible. Lets make Alaskan energy 100% renewable, and give every Alaskan good reason to invest in a better brand of bumper sticker.
I would not support Congress acting to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its greenhouse gas emission authority. Alaska is on the front lines of climate change from warming permafrost, receding glaciers and communities literally falling into the ocean. Also, the same pollutants causing climate change are causing our oceans to become more acidic, threatening our fisheries. I am the only candidate in the Alaska’s U.S. Senate race putting new ideas on the table to increase our nation’s energy security through increased use of renewable energy and energy efficiency technology, while responsibly developing our domestic oil and gas resources. I see Alaska as key to a renewable future for America: we have vast untapped renewable resources like tidal, hydroelectric, solar, and wind. We have massive reserves of traditional sources of energy, like oil and natural gas, which must be brought to market while we transition to a more sustainable future.
NOTE: The 2010 election could have significant impact on the prospects of sensible clean energy action and Congressional acknowledgment of Global Warming. Sen Jim Inhofe (R-Exxon Mobil / R-BP) will have hearing after hearing celebrating anti-science deniers if he games a chairmanship again. Democratic control of the Senate means debates about how to act to deal with climate mitigation. Act Blue for Climate Heroes.