Alaskans know it. I was born and raised here, and I can see it clear as day. Our state is at a serious crossroads, where the only certainty is change. From how we will fund basic services to considering what will drive our economy 10 years from now, numerous questions exist. And the pressure is on to figure out immediate fixes to our short-term problems.
But while it may seem difficult to do considering our present situation, there are additional, forward-looking questions that must be included in the mix. For example, what will our state look like 100 years from now? What will we be relying on to drive our economy? And how will future generations view us when they look back at the choices we make today — and our reasons for making them?
Those questions need to be considered when we make decisions about resource development today. Some risks aren’t worth the benefits, and one unacceptable risk is allowing offshore oil development in our Arctic Ocean. We must not forget the mistakes of the past when making the critical decisions about the future.
An opinion article ran last week in this publication entitled “Alaska Wilderness League disregards Alaskans,” using outdated facts in order to make a case in support of offshore drilling. The piece unfairly singles out one individual for not offering a holistic solution for Alaska’s economy, then offers more offshore oil drilling as a solution to our economic problems today, tomorrow, and well into the future — without recognizing the associated risks of that development and without acknowledging how much our state’s overdependence on oil and gas has contributed to the economic crisis today.
The short-term risks of offshore oil development in the Arctic Ocean are real. A 2015 government analysis predicted a 75 percent chance of a large oil spill if oil production were to begin in the Chukchi Sea. Considering the difficulties that Shell ran into during its recent exploration activities, it’s difficult to have confidence in how the company would respond in the event of a large spill. In recent decades, we’ve witnessed oil disasters — followed by poor responses from industry. An Exxon Valdez-sized spill that spreads beneath Arctic sea ice would be devastating — to communities, to clean waters, and to wildlife alike.
The article also assumes that our economy of tomorrow will look like our economy of today. Most misleading is the assumption that the state of Alaska continues to receive 90 percent of unrestricted revenue from oil and gas. That was true a decade ago, but today that number is 55-60 percent and likely to continue to fall in the years ahead. British Petroleum’s Alaska headquarters is for sale. Nearly all – 486 out of 487 – existing leases in the Chukchi Sea have been relinquished. World markets are changing as nations begin to act on combatting climate change. This isn’t a time for outdated facts; it’s a time for us to be realistic about our future.
I don’t accept the notion that Alaska should ignore its responsibility on the worldwide stage. Taken directly from the article: “Shutting down Arctic development doesn’t solve climate change either; the rest of the world will continue to produce their hydrocarbons.” Denial isn’t a solution, and it isn’t a legacy that we can leave to future generations.
So where do we head from here? We need to double down on supporting and growing our renewable industries — industries like fisheries, tourism and education — while minimizing the largest threats to a sustainable way of life in Alaska. We can’t destroy the lands and waters that will provide for us today, tomorrow and 100 years from now, for short-term gains. And we also can’t assume that our main product of the past few decades — oil — will continue to be our golden ticket in the future. The world is changing, and actions to address climate change are gaining momentum. We need to be part of a solution, and we can’t be caught off-guard when the inevitable transition occurs.
It was this message that my colleague brought forward in Washington, D.C. I’ll stand with her from Alaska and I stand with anyone who acknowledges that Alaska’s challenges are large, but our opportunities are too, and we need to be smart in the decisions we make today. I’m confident that together, we can build a legacy that we can be proud of not just this fiscal year, but long into the future.
• Andy Moderow is the state director for Alaska Wilderness League, based in Anchorage.