Leg With Louie: Building the new economy starts now

Yours may be cowboys, Willie, but my heroes have always been journalists. Even today, in the middle of the daily whirlwind of sheep-dip and gibberish from our highest officer in the land, with uncertainty on all horizons and a pandemic at our door, journalists are out there asking questions, arranging facts, allowing citizens a foothold of logic in the world and I am thankful – grateful – for them and their service. We are receptive customers right now, a captive audience sitting at home, or in automobiles protesting, everyone grappling for ways to understand and have some agency over their future. A strong news story can give you a foothold for taking action, and action is motion, and motion is hope.

Alaska Public Media recently reported on the debate over providing additional assistance payments from the Permanent Fund Earnings Reserve. The economic pain residents face at a personal level is also at the state financial level with the price of North Slope oil at rock bottom and the investments of the Permanent Fund suffering major losses. The legislature will be compelled to reconvene session in May to allocate $1.25 billion in federal stimulus money. The debate over who gets what and when will occur in a pressure cooker environment.  

Out of work Alaskans need resources to survive, and they need funds immediately. The economy is crippled, and restarting it will take thoughtful action from our elected leaders. The restart will benefit from a focus on a sustainable future like renewable energy jobs and construction jobs in energy-efficient northern infrastructure, and smart grid technology, broadband expansion, electric vehicle infrastructure, and a food-security revolution requiring new land-use practices, and climate change planning and research efforts.  

Climate change is no longer an abstract concept – its impacts Alaskans saw most intimately in 2019 are suddenly a threat multiplier for coronavirus mortality, with wildfire smoke and air pollution as additional respiratory stressors. Congress must act quickly to ensure the health and safety of Americans. In addition to taking a long hard look at our medical system, which leaves millions without health insurance, they must put forward an infrastructure bill that rapidly advances a national renewable energy and energy efficiency agenda. Our congressional delegation needs to lead the charge. If the oil industry is not able to quickly recover from today’s price free fall, then we need a plan for the workers, the economy, the state, and the country that will provide a Just Transition: long term jobs and economic security in the construction of smart, modern infrastructure projects that promote the health of Americans.  

Rebuilding the economy and the safety of Alaska starts next month. The state legislature will likely focus on the emergency distribution of assistance to suffering individuals, communities, and economic sectors. As we move forward, they need to keep the big picture in mind. Climate change presents an additional existential threat to vulnerable Alaskans, and they must address it. A message from Alaska’s youth can be instructive here >> 

In hope and solidarity,

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