Washington, DC — A special top-level government group to address the perils that climate change poses to Alaskan communities stopped meeting three years ago, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Also abandoned was an “Immediate Action” plan from 2009 to better shield communities most at-risk from sea-level rise and other climate-related changes.
Before she was picked as John McCain’s running mate, Governor Sarah Palin expressed concern that “Alaska's climate is warming” with many coastal communities facing the brunt of unprecedented threats.
In 2007, she appointed the Alaska Climate Change Sub-Cabinet that began work on implementing a strategic plan for the state. In March 2009, an “Immediate Action Work Group” issued a detailed report to the Sub-Cabinet outlining actions needed to cushion the state’s most endangered communities.
But after Palin resigned, her successor, Gov. Sean Parnell, a former ConocoPhillips executive, focused instead on more oil development, and the Climate Sub-Cabinet was quietly shut down. In November 2012, Rick Steiner, a retired University of Alaska professor and PEER Board member, started pursuing public record requests on what happened to the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet and its recommendations.
“Alaska is the state most vulnerable to climate change, and its disastrous effects are here now, and growing worse every year,” Steiner said. “Convening the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet was the singular environmental achievement of Governor Palin, and now even that has been terminated by her successor, Governor Parnell. Ironically, Alaska’s present oil and gas production contributes to the global warming that threatens Alaska’s future. We can’t simply ignore this threat, hoping it will go away – it won’t.”
In a response to Steiner dated February 1, 2013, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) finally admitted that the Climate Change Sub-Cabinet last met three years ago in February 2010. The DEC defensively maintained that some climate-related work continued until later in 2010, but withheld all three records documenting that work. DEC also maintained that the incongruously named “Immediate Action Work Group” continued some activity early into 2011 when it, too, lapsed into oblivion.
As a result of the Parnell administration’s disinterest in climate change, detailed planning for more than 100 at-risk Alaskan communities and ecosystems seems to be in limbo. On issues ranging from village relocation, to growing wildfire vulnerability and high erosion and flooding dangers, to sea ice loss, to impacts to infrastructure (ironically, including the Alaska pipeline), the state has abandoned a pro-active posture.
“Regardless of the causes, it is hard to deny the increasingly dramatic effects of climate change, especially in the Arctic region,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Sarah Palin’s views on climate change have tilted rightward since 2008, migrating into the “climate denier” camp. “Alaska cannot afford to keep buried its head in the melting permafrost.”