Alaska must fight climate change

Posted: Friday, July 20, 2007

It wasn't something I would normally watch, which mainly is due to the lack of a television at my house. But there I was, sitting in a local bar and restaurant with a score of locals, watching what was touted as the world's largest concert.

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The June 7 concert, known as Live Earth, was a 24-hour, seven-continent, mega-event to recognize what is fast becoming the buzzword of the century - global warming. The event was the brain child of none other than the creator of the Internet himself, Al Gore.

As the master of ceremonies, Gore rattled off a world simulcast speech about the effects of global warming and the immediate need to act now. This met with long applause from what were obviously firm believers in the cause. In fact, national agreement on the existence of global warming is at an all time high of 85 percent.

Even Alaska's own Congressman Don Young, a longtime global warming naysayer, has come around to the notion that the world is actually warming. His views are stated clearly on his Web site: "Global warming is occurring. However, I do not believe that mankind is solely responsible for this occurrence."

So, the majority agree that the planet is warming. Though, the cause is still up for debate. Still, this is no reason for inaction.

Recently, the Senate passed an energy bill requiring a 40 percent increase in automotive fuel efficiency. By 2020, all cars should average 35 mpg. This alone would cut 250 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (a global warming contributor). This is the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road today.

And Congress is trying to implement a plan to "green up" the Capitol. This includes the installation of fluorescent lights, using 100 percent recycled paper, getting electricity from renewable sources and even using energy efficient paper shredders.

On the consumer front, the high cost of fuel has brought a 40 percent jump in hybrid car demand. These popular electric-gas cars can get more than 50 miles per gallon. Couple this with a 25 to 35 percent decrease in emissions, and drivers save money at the pump while also saving the environment.

But even if we do stretch the current energy supply with hybrid cars and energy conservation, aren't we still creating carbon dioxide, the very culprit of greenhouse gases? If anything, these measures are just transitional elements that buy us time until we can come up with a permanent solution.

The government may be slow to control emissions, and some may still debate whether humans have anything to do with warming in the first place, but there is one group that is already looking beyond all this - corporate America.

The Global Roundtable on Climate Change - a group comprising of business leaders and executives from around the world which includes General Electric, Wal-Mart, Alcoa and DuPont - took a firm stance on the issue of global warming. In a joint statement, the group declared that fossil fuels "increase the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which along with the release of other greenhouse gases warms the planet and leads to other impacts on global climate change." It goes on to further state, "Energy efficiency must play an important role in these strategies, but long-term success will require a concerted effort to de-carbonize the global energy system."

De-carbonize the global energy system? No more oil and coal? How does that work? How do we move an entire world, whose main source of energy is from carbon-based fossil fuels to a noncarbon releasing source of fuel?

These are certainly some of the toughest challenges we have ever faced. The fact that the world is warming is no longer up for debate. But what to do about it is. Northern climates, such as ours, are already experiencing increased glacier melt, warming seas and diminishing permafrost. The Last Frontier is quite literally on the front lines of global warming.

Alaska leaders need to take a firm stance on climate change. They need to pass legislation that creates alternatives to our carbon-based energy supply. Simply admitting that global warming is occurring isn't going to fix anything. For that matter, neither are rock concerts.

• Steve Vick is a freelance writer and photographer living in Haines. You can contact him at:

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