Opinion: Alaskans can move on from fossil fuels and flatten the climate curve

  • Wednesday, May 20, 2020 1:30pm
  • Opinion

What we do in the decade ahead will determine whether we can avoid runaway climate change. Moving away from the production and use of fossil fuels could help flatten the climate curve.

As people all over the world have come together to practice social distancing and protect each other and our heroic health care workers from the ravages of the coronavirus, we’ve gained collective understanding of what it takes to unite in common cause to confront a global challenge.

As we begin to see hopeful signs that we are turning the corner on the pandemic, a broad coalition of public and private stakeholders is coming together and asking how we can get back on the path to economic prosperity by moving forward to a safer, cleaner environment rather than falling backward.

[Let’s flatten the curve of climate change]

If we fall backward and continue to burn fossil fuels, more and more carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. This concentration of carbon dioxide acts like a blanket that traps heat, disrupting ecological systems and the climate. As the average global temperature rises toward a 2-degree C increase, severe impacts are becoming increasingly evident.

It’s time to get serious about flattening the climate’s disastrous trajectory.

Alaska could be a larger part of the climate solution. One of the most impactful things we could do is to convince our state and federal leaders to find ways to move Alaska away from fossil fuel use and production.

A break with an old oil dependency seems challenging until it isn’t.

As our economy begins to recover from the pandemic, Alaskans have reasons to rethink our relationship with oil. The industry is in trouble. Low demand worldwide, an early price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia and near-full storage capacity caused prices for ANS crude to fall below zero (to negative -$2.68 per barrel) in mid-April. Subsequent prices have been in the $20-$30 per barrel range. With this low-price and low-demand situation, exploration and development are stalling just a few months after a number of international banks decided not to fund new drilling for oil in the Arctic.

The world has moved on. A safe, healthy and sustainable future for the planet means getting off fossil fuels and away from their harmful emissions.

We have growing agreement the climate crisis is upon us. Alaska’s Arctic is no longer the only “canary in the coal mine.” Because of observable and measurable impacts in the Arctic and around the world we’ve hit a tipping point of awareness — more people than ever agree we have an enormous problem and want action to save the planet from becoming uninhabitable.

If there is broad agreement on the problem and its urgency, how can we unite to take collective action to help reduce the imminent risks and economic disruptions driven by climate change?

Will we leave the planet a better place for our children and generations to come? Can we articulate a compelling vision and path forward to counter the powerful amoral interests that continue to deflect, deny and discourage action?

As we envision and work on building a new economy, Alaska can adopt a two-pronged approach:

• Rapidly transition our local energy consumption toward safe, clean, renewable energy; and

• Leverage our local energy production away from high-emission fossil fuels.

Investments now in clean energy infrastructure could provide jobs and help speed the economic recovery from the pandemic.

As a former Director of Oil and Gas for the State of Alaska and a former State Representative, I’ve worked to achieve responsible oil and gas development for the benefit of Alaskans. But global conditions have changed, and the climate crisis is a paramount motivator. We now must do whatever we can, collectively and individually, to contribute to climate solutions.

• Kay Brown is Arctic Policy Director for Pacific Environment. She is a former Director of Oil and Gas for the State of Alaska and a former State Representative from Anchorage. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire.Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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