A climate change wake-up call

The Anchorage Daily News recently published an article entitled, “It’s November, and Southcentral Alaska’s unusually warm fall has some plants putting out spring buds.”

If that’s not a wake-up call about climate change, I don’t know what is.

Of course, the scariest, hottest, smokiest, summer ever in Alaska should have been enough of a wake-up call about what may have already become runaway effects from the burning of fossil fuels. There had never been anything like it, not even close. And yet it is likely only the beginning. Of what, though?

My dad once told me resource-rich states rarely diversify their economies. We are now seeing the downside of that failure to do so here.

So, it would seem this is Alaska’s moment in the sun, as it were. Our “do the right thing” opportunity, having benefited perhaps most among U.S. states from fossil fuels and now showing the most dramatic negative effects from rising CO2. Being the canary in the coal mine does have its responsibilities.

I’ve been slow to appreciate how urgent things had become. Seeing in real time the Alaska I love in danger of catastrophic change, however, has finally moved me to act.

This summer, I installed solar panels on my roof in Anchorage. I also read Peter Brannen’s extremely riveting and readable book, “The Ends of the World,” which brilliantly puts into geo-historical context the five mass extinctions on our planet and their relevance to current times. Then, mid-September, I read Bill McKibben’s blockbuster article, ”Money Is the Oxygen on Which the Fire of Global Warming Burns” in the New Yorker, and wham, it became clear to me that divesting from fossil-fuels is not just for companies.

While McKibben makes it clear getting industry to stop bolstering fossil-fuel production is critical, how can we in good faith ask them to do what we will not?

For years, I’ve taken advantage of investments in fossil fuel pipeline Master Limited Partnerships. MLPs are complicated tax loopholes mostly given to fossil fuel companies and their investors. Billions of dollars are involved. MLPs offer even small investors like me stable returns and low taxes and have been good for me. In the spirit of being an example, though, and not merely a voice, I immediately sold them all, despite the likely cost to me.

More recently, I sold my Blackrock tax-free municipal exchange-traded funds as well. Blackrock, a big supporter of the fossil-fuel industry, according to McKibben, is huge, with just under $7 trillion dollars under management.)

I used to resent, and still resent to a degree, those in the Outside telling Alaska what it could do with its resources, the Outside having already benefited from the exploitation of theirs. (Of course, they still do.)

But it’s too late for resentment. We only have one world, and what we do both collectively and individually can impact everyone. Consequently, we need to help all nations and states move to different economies, ones not reliant on fossil fuels – like Alaska has been, and still is. We need to make whatever reasonable, productive sacrifices we can. That includes making a commitment to help those people hurt by such a move transition to 21st-century, clean-economy jobs.

And we need to do it now. (Some stellar organizations: The Citizens’ Climate Lobby, Drawdown, Sunrise, 350.org, Solarize Anchorage, The Alaska Center and its youth arm, AYEA.)

Scientists are saying we still have time. We can all hope they are right. We do know one thing for sure, though: Times a-wastin’.

By Sandy Gottstein

Sandy Gottstein has lived in Alaska since 1950. Her grandfather arrived here in 1915 and lived in the “tent city.”

Originally posted in the Anchorage Daily News

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