Alaska has never been a simple place to make a living. It has always been a place requiring perseverance, cooperation and resiliency to thrive. Now, Alaska’s economy is faced with a challenge that, for many of us, has already begun to test the bounds of our resiliency. In recent years Our state has seen raging wildfires, unprecedented heatwaves, deadly landslides, loss of permafrost, and coastal erosion on a massive scale. While these climate-driven harms affect rural communities disproportionately, the impact is felt across the state, and for some sectors of our economy the impacts are devastating.
Changes to our landscapes and oceans directly translate into complex challenges to our jobs and economic security for our families and communities. Events fueled by our changing climate, cost Alaska millions of dollars each year, and reduce profit margins for nearly every business sector.
Commercial fishing is the largest private sector employer in our state, and while our incomes naturally vary from season to season, the events transpiring around the state are unprecedented and represent a true threat to our industry. As our oceans and watersheds change because of warming waters and acidification, many of our wild salmon runs are struggling, and our livelihoods along with them. Instability in the commercial fishing sector only stands to increase until we begin to meaningfully address the climate crisis and reduce carbon emissions — and our window to do so is narrowing rapidly.
That reality is alarming, and as a nation and as a state, we have a duty to act boldly to address it. Over the past several weeks, we’ve seen the possibility of a climate policy reset with a new administration in the White House that is listening to scientists, prioritizing communities, and making climate a top-level agenda item throughout our federal government.
President Joe Biden has signed several executive orders that not only begin to address the climate crisis, but also approach climate plans and job plans as one and the same, within the frame of building back better. However, it is critical that a supportive and engaged Congress work with the administration on this front. With respect to bipartisan climate policy, Alaskans are counting on Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan to spearhead the collaborative approach that this moment in time mandates. Senators Murkowski and Sullivan must continue to acknowledge the economic and social threats that climate change poses to Alaskans and continue the work that began with the Energy Act of 2020.
Climate leadership begins with voting to confirm Michael Regan, President Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency which stands to have the most substantive influence over the future of Alaska’s salmon streams and air quality in the coming years. Regan has committed to returning scientific consensus to the EPA’s decision-making process, working collaboratively with other federal agencies to tackle the climate crisis, and facilitating an economic revitalization that is equitable and sustainable. Like Senators Murkowski and Sullivan, he understands the intrinsic link between our environment and our economy.
We all have a part to play in correcting the trajectory of climate change and creating solutions for climate ready fisheries and Alaska’s congressional delegation has the opportunity of a lifetime ahead of them. They can be active players in what will go down in history as a time of change and resilience As they did with opposing Pebble Mine, they can lead unprecedented initiatives to prevent the worst impacts of climate change from upending Alaska’s economic future.
Here in Alaska, clean water and healthy habitat for our fish are truly our lifeblood. History, and Alaskan workers and fishermen are watching.
• Marsh Skeele is a second-generation fisherman, vice president and co-founder of Sitka Salmon Shares and lives in Sitka.