My Turn: Film not productive, just noisy

Posted: Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Last week's showing of the film "Not Evil, Just Wrong" was not productive, just noisy. The film and its supporters seem to have little interest in bringing us closer together, encouraging healthy debate, or presenting any kind of meaningful solutions to climate change.

Rather than a couple of Outside filmmakers bent on dividing communities and the public, why not bring together scientists, business people, policymakers and other reasonable, passionate experts on climate change right here in Alaska? If we bring those Alaskans together in a public forum to discuss climate change, using the best available science, we may actually find some common ground and even some solutions.

We desperately need to find common ground and solutions, especially here in Alaska. Climate change is already becoming a human tragedy in the northern communities of our state, not something that will only happen to polar bears or something that will happen fifty or a hundred years from now. Homes have been lost, collapsing into the sea or into the melting permafrost. Lives have been lost as changing ice conditions make travel and hunting more dangerous. Whole communities are on the verge of being swallowed by the sea.

These are our neighbors--our fellow Alaskans. And the idea that we need a couple of Irish filmmakers to come and explain to us how climate change isn't happening is ludicrous, if not deeply offensive. Further, the demonizing of "radical, well-funded environmental groups" is misguided and misleading, especially when one considers that in recent years major multi-national corporations like Shell have made profits of millions of dollars per hour while many Americans struggle to fill their gas tanks or heat their homes.

I am an environmentalist, and I say that proudly. I am also an Alaskan and a 38-year resident of Juneau, which I say even more proudly. I care deeply about this community and my neighbors, and also care about the health of people around our planet, and of the future of our planet itself. The two are not mutually exclusive, and attempts to portray caring about people and caring about the planet as in opposition to each other are either woefully misguided or driven by motives of profit and greed.

I have also been a scientist for my entire adult life, working for the government and now for Oceana. As a scientist I am committed to the idea of honest, open debate based on scientific fact. Yet that debate must be rooted in the same Alaskan spirit that drives the best in us and our community, not the angry, close-minded bickering that too many of our local and national discussions have become.

This Alaskan spirit was never more evident than when the Snettisham avalanche cut our power lines, raising our energy rates five fold almost overnight. As Juneauites we responded with the sense of community and can-do, practical attitude that makes Alaska great. Through our individual and community actions, Juneau's power consumption dropped by almost 40 percent, and a significant portion of that gain lasted long after the lines were reconnected.

In addition to these individual achievements, our state is now looking at drawing on Alaska's immense amount of clean, renewable energy sources, including wind, geothermal, solar and an expansion of the hydropower we enjoy here in Juneau.

This combination of individual conservation and energy innovation is the blueprint for our nation and the world to reduce our emissions and reverse the worst impacts of climate change. As Alaskans, we have the unique opportunity to lead the way at this historic moment.

Yet every time a film like "Not Evil, Just Wrong" appears, it distracts and divides us, reminding us of where we disagree rather than helping us come together in the many ways in which we do agree. We can, and must, do better.

The debate we need, and deserve, to have on how to address the coming threats of climate change must be rooted in the spirit of togetherness, ingenuity, and personal responsibility that made Alaska great in the first place.

Anything less is an insult to ourselves, our community and our fellow Alaskans.

• Jeff Short is Pacific Science director for Oceana. He is the author of more than 50 scientific publications and has contributed to three books.

He holds a Bachelor Science in biochemistry and philosophy from University of California at Riverside, a Master of Science in physical chemistry from the University of California at Santa Cruz, and a Doctor of Philosophy in fisheries biology from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

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