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Alaska takes action on climate change

By FRANCES LAMBERTS

In a poem in “Echoes from a Peaceable Kingdom,” John Bennett has a polar bear looking for a “cleanly coldness,” such as used to be its experience in Arctic weathers.

As the animal plods towards too-warm water, he complains, shaking his heavy head “against an arrogance of the sun” and grunting that, surely, “cold cannot be dead.”

The bear isn’t alone in feeling threatened by this newly “arrogant sun” seemingly spawning greater heat, water warming and other ill effects. In the Arctic region over the recent decades, temperature have risen at twice the rate of the rest of the country. Walruses and seals also see the ice cover dwindle upon which their survival depends.

Caribou mothers now often find little fodder during late-pregnancy months, the warming being the cause of plants’ blooming earlier in the year. Fewer healthy calves result and fewer of these reach adulthood. And caribou have little defense against mosquito swarms which now can reach “hundreds of thousands to millions of insects,” according to National Geographic, as the warming climate gives them a 50 percent greater breeding success.

Sea level rise and land erosion, through fierce storms over now open coastal waters, are forcing the native people of Alaska to relocate some of their ancestral villages. Local governments and tribes “throughout Alaska,” as a climate assessment report indicates, must consider or are actively moving farther inland and away from rivers, and building extensive shore-protection structures. Many buildings, roads and other infrastructure have to be shored up or given up as permafrost thawing causes the land to subside, making them unstable.

And tree-killing insect pests survive in the warmer climate, causing huge forest fires earlier and longer than ever before.

The State of Alaska, acknowledging change “so real and so widespread that it’s become impossible to ignore” is taking strong action to fight climate change, as the New York Times reported in May. By administrative order in October, Governor Bill Walker established a task force to lay out a Climate Action Plan.

Wind turbines dot the Alaskan landscape on the governor’s website and a draft plan released in April aims to have half of the state’s electricity come from renewable sources – up from 33 percent in 2016 – by 2025. It will have the state cut its greenhouse gas emissions one-third below 2005 levels by that year, in line with (and exceeding slightly) what the nation had committed to in the Paris Climate Agreement.

The plan considers putting a Carbon Fee and Dividend program in place to speed the change to climate-benign energy.

The polar bear cannot know that humans’ fossil-fuel burning since the industrial revolution, rather than a more luminous sun, is to blame for its loss of ice.

It is heartening to see energy-transitioning efforts such as this are in progress and planned in Alaska, and by other states and many sub-state entities. One must hope that they reach such mass, and achieve success, before global warming becomes so extreme that “cold (will be) dead” and the planet becomes inhospitable to human and other life.