My Turn: Climate change is not Alaska’s fault

  • By STEVE BOWHAY
  • Tuesday, March 1, 2016 1:00am
  • Opinion

Alaskans face some serious challenges that are being overlooked, as we witness the demise of the oil industry. Some of the people who are part of the consensus on climate change want to completely ban the use of fossil fuels because of climate change.

If the price of oil is disappointing to Alaskans who are counting on their pension, the thought of no oil revenue or even legal action that goes after our Permanent Fund to pay for climate change impacts should make your knees wobble. We all know ignoring a problem never ends well.

The problem is while we support the Alaska LNG project, we worry that if we do nothing, by the time the gas is ready for market it will be illegal to sell it.

While others are receiving subsidies for “green fuels” (which is bio-diesel or actual gasoline rendered directly from wood chips or non-food portions of crops) we are paying fees and taxes for carbon emissions.

Leaders in the bio-fuel industry (Cool Planet Energy Systems) claim they can get 3 thousand gallons of gasoline per acre from corn stalks.

The Black Spruce forests of interior Alaska store several times more hydrocarbons (fuel) per acre than corn stalks. Last year wildfires burned 5 million acres in Alaska; that would equal 15 billion gallons of gasoline at 3 thousand gallons per acre.

Meanwhile, we exported about 500,000 barrels or 25 million gallons per day or 8.7 billion gallons per year.

So actually, in Alaska more CO2 was needlessly released by wildfires than the useful releases from all of the fossil fuels produced in Alaska in 2015.

But the release of CO2 is nothing when compared to the needless loss of millions of animals that perished in the fires, and it happens every year. It seems that the areas we protect the most are the ones that burn first.

Wildfires are by far the most disastrous, wasteful and costliest annual event that we can do something about.

Nothing stops a wildfire like an irrigated field. If we could open up the interior including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas exploration, we could subdivide our precious areas into a more manageable size. By clearing road paths in a grid pattern through the millions of acres of forest in Alaska, we could have a rapid response system that actually put fires out. These roads could be paid for with the new crude oil and gas exploration.

If the cleared fire buffer areas were used for bio-fuel production, the fuel produced might be able to be shipped through the same pipeline and provide thousands of jobs for generations to come. The crops would be recycling the CO2 equivalent to that which will be emitted by the new oil production so we would be doing our part to reduce CO2 emissions by protecting our forest.

Some who want to leave crude oil and natural gas in the ground certainly cannot understand how the whole process works on this planet.

We cannot make oil and gas stay underground any more than we can make lightning stop starting wildfires. Seeps prove oil and gas won’t stay underground; the University of Alaska Fairbanks research team has done some very good work on seeps in the Arctic. It is time Alaska explains to the rest of the world that climate change is not our fault.

In fact some of the methane releases in the Russian Arctic are unbelievable. As the permafrost gets thinner it no longer can contain the gas and the ground explodes from the pressure and releases vast clouds of methane.

No matter what your view is on CO2 and climate change, reducing emissions is not the only way to lower the CO2 levels in the atmosphere.

Humans can stop burning fossil fuels but we can’t stop them from being burned. The fingerprint of burning crude oil is in its emissions: water vapor, carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide. This is exactly the same emissions as some volcanoes.

The scientific consensus now says long duration volcanic eruptions involving sulfur dioxide are to blame for four of five mass extinctions here on Earth.

In this political climate, it would seem if U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, can move any energy bill, it is truly monumental.

• Steve Bowhay is Co-owner Glacier Gardens and a self-proclaimed Carbon Sculpting Engineer.

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