Global warming is happening twice as fast in the Alaska

Alaska coastline is at risk from climate change. Photo of beach on the Kenai Peninsula. (Photo by Mark Trahant)

Climate change means dramatic changes in Alaska and especially along our thousands of miles of coastline

John Tetpon

Science is a good thing. It’s not about myths, old tales, and anecdotes of years gone by. It’s about real-life studies and research done by experts and academia from all over the planet.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, said last week that warmer temperatures in the Arctic are extending longer into the year and warming in the Arctic is happening twice as fast as the rest of the globe.

That promises dramatic changes here in Alaska and especially along our thousands of miles of coastline. Floods, beach erosion, higher than average storm surges, loss of normal sea life, and the loss of entire villages could be just around the corner.

The warming trend in the coldest part of the globe, is notably the most talked about among climate change experts and means that sea ice is melting twice as fast as before and that will impact, not just Alaska, but the entire world. Yet most people just don’t get it.

There are dozens of villages along the Alaska coast that I have been to that are just a few feet above sea level. I can name a few – Shaktoolik, my home town, Point Hope on the North Slope, Kaktovik, Kotzebue, Shishmaref, Wainwright, Unalakleet, St. Michael, Togiak, Stebbins, and others.

They should all be on the endangered list. And there are many more. The Arctic will be at the epicenter of fast moving alterations, that of becoming something different than we have ever known. Its side affects will be more intense from here to New York.

Naysayers, like President Donald Trump, who often makes jokes about global warming is not convinced that his prized resort in Florida – Mar-a- Lago – only sixteen feet above sea level, will eventually be taken by the sea as a result of climate change. If sea levels rise just two-feet, the estate’s western lawns will be under water.

After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, water broke the sea walls of many homes near the president’s golf club and Palm Beach County had to restore acres of eroded seashore.

Scientists point to the Arctic ice melt as the key indicator of what’s to come. Alaska is directly in its path. And yes, Florida too. So is California, Washington state, Oregon, and Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, and more.

In yet another warning, the United Nations issued a report in early October done by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, which says the planet will reach the crucial threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels by as early as 2030, precipitating the risk of extreme drought, more intense wildfires, floods and food shortages for hundreds of millions of people.

That’s only 12-years from now.

Alaska is one of the America’s biggest producers of fossil fuel, oil, and we’re caught in a damned if you do and damned if you don’t kind of proposition. And so are the oil producers in the Middle East, Russia, China, and elsewhere. Nobody wants to pull the plug on the best moneymaker there is. And I don’t blame them.

The countries that produce oil, like us, leave the biggest carbon footprint in the universe. We’re all caught in that dilemma of making big bucks and ignoring the consequences.

There’s no quick and easy solution. Carbon capture and storage is the only alternative if we won’t ease up on our dependence on petroleum. Yet, that’s not a priority yet.

The year 2030, which falls well within the lifetime of many people alive today, is based on current levels of greenhouse gas emissions.

The planet is already two-thirds of the way there, with global temperatures having warmed about 1 degree C. Avoiding going even higher will require significant action in the next few years, the IPCC said.

For Native people, the time for discussion about our future is right now. The clarion call is sounding. How are we going to survive and hang on to the many good things we have gained? How will we respond to the call for more oil and gas development in the face of doomsday? How are we going to deal with the reality that under the surface of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is more oil than we can imagine?

There’s a lot of money to be made and frankly, a lot to lose at the same time. These are fair questions.

In any case it seems to me that climate change is real, and we are and will continue to be right in the midst of it. We’ve risen to many a challenge in our time, and we can rise to the biggest one yet – irreversible global warming that will impact every living thing on Earth, animals, birds, the forests, the seas, rivers, and every single human being that lives upon it.

*John Tetpon, Inupiaq, is a longtime Alaska journalist, musician and artist.*His email: johnnytetpon@yahoo.com

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