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Former Climate Action Leadership Team members react to disbandment

(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 8, 2019 at 6:07 PM AKST
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Former members of the Climate Action for Alaska Leadership Team disbanded by Gov. Dunleavy say the state could be in for some tough times if it doesn't do something about the issues facing Alaska.

"We are going to be impacted, and already are being impacted by the increase in our fire season, the length of our fire season," said Chris Rose, who is a former member of the team and current Executive Director of Renewable Energy Alaska Project (REAP). "We are going to see impacts to our roads and buildings that are built on permafrost. The fishing industry could begin to see some major impacts as ocean acidification continues, and the food chain that salmon and other fish rely on begins to change."

The climate action leadership team formed under Gov. Bill Walker was formed to develop a statewide approach to mitigating and adapting to climate change issues Alaska is facing, and former members of the team fear for the future of the state without some sort of solid plan in place.

"There are several villages that are going to have to move," Rose said. "They are being flooded because ice is not forming along the coast in the fall like it used to, which protected those communities from big fall storms. That's going to be an immediate impact, whether or not we find the money to move those villages or not."

The team of 21 formally submitted a

to Walker in September that included community partnership and economic opportunities, ecosystem changes and their affect on human health, and maximizing the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions as part of carbon-neutral economic growth.

"If you look at the people that were on the team, from the head of BP Alaska, to the head of the university, to representation from the military, and the private sector, and folks who are researchers. The brain trust in this group, which is a group of folks who are dedicating their time volunteering, really. It's an incredibly valuable group of folks to be developing a plan for the state basically for free," said former team member Isaac Vanderburg, who is the current Managing Director of Launch Alaska.

Vanderburg feels that not having the team is a missed opportunity for the state to play a leadership role.

"I'm talking about an innovation sector in Alaska focused on climate change. I'm talking about a startup sector, and a high growth scalable company sector in Alaska, which we need right now in Alaska. We need to reduce our expenses, and think about reducing our costs, and we also need to be finding ways of bringing in new revenue."

Vanderburg says not having a plan in place could come at a high cost.

"The costs associated with not doing anything about climate change are already going into the millions if you look at some of the community relocations, or the effects on our electric infrastructure, or disruptions to our transportation system that we're already seeing, and are only predicted to get worse, so we're going to see these spiraling costs if we do nothing," said Vanderburg.

These former members say despite the disbandment, they remain dedicated to finding solutions, and ideas about mitigating, and adapting to climate change.

"What we probably won't have with the absence of the Climate Action Leadership Team is for the departments of the State of Alaska to be as aligned as they could possibly be," Said Rose. "I'm hoping that the groups that are still working individually or collectively with each other will be able to share information with the state, because the state will be impacted."

Gov. Dunleavy's office did not respond to Channel 2's requests for reaction to the comments made by those former members. Last week, the Governor's Press Secretary said in a statement, "The impacts of climate change will continue to be part of the public discussion, and Alaska will strive to take action to mitigate those impacts for its people," It goes on to say, "more broadly, if the legislature would like to see specific action on these items, including adding unreasonable and out of touch restrictions on Alaska businesses and communities, that is their prerogative."

On the local level, the Municipality of Anchorage has recently released a draft of a climate action plan that it is welcoming public comment on.

"It's an Alaskan value to be good stewards of the place we live, which is why it's imperative that we step up locally to mitigate the effects of climate change in our community," said Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. "Our actions will reduce energy use, improve public health, promote energy independence, strengthen our economy and build a more livable and resilient community."

Residents are invited to read and comment on the draft climate action plan through March 31. The entire plan, as well as an automated feedback form, can be found

Comments and feedback can also be shared through email at climateactionplan@anchorageak.gov, by phone at (907) 343-7100, or at a community meeting scheduled to take place on March 27 at 5:30 p.m. at the Z.J. Loussac Library.

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