Voices of Alaska: Alaska and a changing climate

Posted: Thursday, July 22, 2010

Unique among the United States, Alaska enjoys easy access to 21st century technology, fiscal benefits of a 20th century economy, and -- until recently -- the purity of 19th century nature: clean, intact, and healthy. While wireless, satellite phone and GPS coverage spread, oil and fish supplies decrease, and the wild nature we have taken for granted is changing.

Like many Alaskans I moved to Alaska fresh out of high school, looking for adventure. That was in 1977 when oil first flowed through the Alaska Pipeline. During my teens and twenties I climbed mountains, skied glaciers and rafted rivers. As a father and husband in my thirties, I mixed adventure and responsibility hunting moose and caribou to feed my family.

With boots in the mud and hands on the brush, these year-round outdoor activities forced me to confront Alask a's natural environment head on, witnessing what long-time Alaskans see and feel across the state. Winters are warming; glaciers are retreating; seasonal river floods are shifting; lakes and wetlands are drying; permafrost is thawing; shrubs and trees are growing where they have never grown before; insect outbreaks and forest fires are stripping forests of their foliage; and villages are slipping into the sea.

These same landscapes that are changing before our eyes support a thriving outdoor recreation economy, one that generates thousands of jobs and over one billion annually in retail sales and services. Our pristine landscapes and opportunities for outdoor adventure also attract bright young professionals and entrepreneurs to move to Alaska and call it home. Yet climate change threatens Alaska's wild heritage, our quality of life, and the associated economic benefits.

While many Alaskans can't deny the changes in the wild landscapes that they fly over and hunt in, many do remain unconvinced that humans can affect the Earth's climate. These same Alaskans who won't admit a human cause for climate change still advocate that we shift toward renewable energy, away from oil and toward carbon neutral sources. These climate change skeptics appreciate Alaska's unique environment and many live far closer to the land than their urban counterparts, with more to lose in a changing climate.

If even we Alaskans, with an economy dependent on oil since its discovery in Prudhoe Bay, see the need for energy independence and carbon neutrality, then surely the rest of the United States can come together and do the same. I encourage Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski to support clean energy legislation that prepares us to adapt to the coming, inevitable changes. I also encourage you to contact Senators Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski by going to www.outdooralliance.net and ask them to protect the climate and Alaska's great outdoor heritage.

Roman Dial, Professor of Biology and Mathematics at Alaska Pacific University, has explored Alaska's wilderness for over thirty years.



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