The inspiration for this column comes from two places. One is that it’s the end of year and the second is from Haines writer (also a New York Times bestselling author) and friend, Heather Lende. Her book, Find the Good (published by Algonquin Books in 2015) is a gem of insightful life writing. Pretending she was on her deathbed and trying to come up with a few pithy words of wisdom just before having her soul whispered up the chimney, she came up with three words: Find the Good. She writes, “I surprised myself with this pretty great notion. Find the good. That’s enough. That’s plenty. I could leave my family with that.”
Starting with a global situation and working down to the local level here is where I found some good in 2017. Even though it may be remembered as the year when the new normal of climate change — intense and numerous hurricanes, severe floods and massive fires — became established in the mindset of many Americans, it also heralded one of the most significant developments in tackling climate change. On Dec. 19, China formally launched the world’s largest carbon trading system, meant to help the country meet its ambitious climate change and clean energy targets.
This is a monumental commitment: the world’s largest emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases will now be the keeper of the world’s largest financial market devoted to cleaning up the air. Noting that China’s market will cover 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide releases, Nathaniel Keohane, vice-president for global climate at the Environmental Defense Fund says, “This is the Mount Everest of climate policy. It’s an incredibly ambitious undertaking.”
We live in a most peculiar world when the United States, the largest capitalistic system, abandons leadership on one of the world’s most pressing challenges, ceding our place to the largest communist country in the world. Moreover, China takes the leadership mantle by establishing the largest market-based solution to the problem. Sometimes finding the good is not where you expect it to be.
About the same time that China announced their use of the market place to transition away from fossil fuels, the Alaska Permanent Fund Board took a small but vital step toward more sustainable investment. The Corporation’s Board of Trustees has requested a meeting to talk about the sustainability and ethical impacts of its investments. Even though they did this to “maximize return-on-investment”, rather than to address climate concerns, the net result points toward the path we should take.
Today, the rapid rise of renewable energy markets, unstable and down-trending oil and natural gas prices, and Paris Accord commitments to reach net-zero carbon emissions by mid-century are clear indicators that maximum return-on-investment is no longer possible from fossil fuel holdings. Even Norway’s $1-trillion-dollar wealth fund built on oil production is now being advised by the Norwegian Central Bank to divest of its oil and gas stock holdings. While the basis of this advice is solely on financial risk assessment, this potential action by Norway’s Wealth Fund would represent the biggest advance for the fossil fuel divestment campaign that started on college campuses in the United States in 2010. Although we are not as far down the path as the Norway Wealth Fun, it’s refreshing to know that the Board of Trustees for the Alaska Permanent Fund will begin examining the financial merits of socially responsible investments.
The most exciting local development related to climate change came when early in the year Chugach Alaska Corporation sold their rights to Bering River coal in exchange for carbon credit revenue via California’s cap and trade carbon market. The transaction involved the Nature Conservancy and a local Native Conservancy land trust. It represents a new investment model for Alaska. At the time of this innovative deal, Josie Hickel, Senior Vice-President of Energy and Resources, noted, “A coal sale and carbon offset project is a unique opportunity to deliver long-term, sustainable economic and financial value for our shareholders and region.” The coal for carbon offset revenue is a precedent setting climate accomplishment, not only for the Chugach region and their 2,500 shareholders but for other Alaskan communities that own carbon reserves whether it be it in fossil fuels or old-growth forests.
Finding the good, whether for the earth as I’ve done here, or for your own community, is a healthy exercise. As Heather Lende writes at the end of her book, “Looking for the good may be part nature, but it can be nurtured. Find the good, praise the good, and do good, because you are still able to and because what moves your heart will remain long after you are gone and turn up in the most unexpected places.” When I started this column, I didn’t expect to go from China to the Chugach in finding the good.
• Kate Troll is a former Juneau Assembly member with 22 years experience in climate and energy, fisheries, coastal management policy. She currently is a regular columnist for the Anchorage Daily News and author of “The Great Unconformity: Reflections on Hope in an Imperiled World.”