Representatives of eight nations gathered in Fairbanks to discuss issues of energy in the Arctic last week. It’s easy for government summits to turn into diplomatic functions short on actual progress, but when it comes to Arctic energy issues, other nations at similar latitudes have similar experience and expertise that can inform the state on how to proceed with its own problems and opportunities. As with most of the state’s issues, it’s good to know Alaska isn’t alone in its challenges.
Meeting with the Alaska delegation were representatives from Iceland, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia. In discussions over the course of the conference, they detailed the issues particular to their countries. Limited infrastructure. Land tied up by government control. Cold temperatures. High transportation costs. But for the origin of their passport, they might well have been presenting about Alaska.
Just as the circumpolar countries share similar issues as Alaska experiences, they are also working along similar lines to find solutions. Alaska was no slouch in sharing its expertise in Arctic energy research — the conference was well attended by researchers from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and Alaska presenters such as Dillingham assistant professor Tom Marsik contributed to the discussion of energy efficiency. Mr. Marsik, who performs research and teaches with UAF’s College of Rural and Community Development, bears the distinction of having built the world’s most airtight home. That home, Mr. Marsik says, costs about $100 per year to heat. While not every Alaskan or resident of the circumpolar north can have a house with 28-inch walls, Marsik’s residence is a dramatic example of what’s possible in terms of conserving as much energy as possible.
It was fitting, too, that the conference took place in the midst of a winter storm that knocked out power to a broad swath of the Interior, including the Carlson Center, where part of the summit was being held. Fortunately, the Carlson Center had backup generators and the events proceeded more or less without interruption. It was a strong lesson on the fragility of northern infrastructure in the face of natural forces and the need to harden those services and have resilient backup systems.
Alaska and its Arctic neighbors have much they can learn from one another in matters of energy, from efficiency and conservation to resource development and infrastructure. In dealing with these issues, it’s helpful to be reminded that those with the best experience to help the state chart its way forward aren’t always in the Lower 48 — sometimes, they’re our neighbors at similar latitudes.
— Fairbanks Daily News-Miner,