Climate expert: Alaska has resources to be global leader in energy
World-renowned climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe is on a mission across the state of Alaska.
The state, which is seen as one of the most vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate, heavily relies on the oil and gas industry. However, with carbon dioxide levels on the rise and a planet that has warmed nearly 1 degree Celsius, Hayhoe says it's time to shift our focus to cleaner energy.
Through a series of lectures, Hayhoe has been talking about how Alaskans can meet their energy needs and tackle the challenges and opportunities that climate change raises. While doing so, she says we can't turn a blind eye from where we've been and how we got there through the use of fossil fuels.
Hayhoe says fossil fuels have been very beneficial in advancing civilizations. Prior to the industrial revolution, the life span was around 40 years for an individual, but thanks to the discovery of fossil fuels we have seen our life expectancy nearly double.
Even here in Alaska, we are seeing the direct effects of a changing climate. According to Hayhoe, it's affecting our health, economy and the security of our infrastructure, which completely dismantles one of the biggest myths about climate change — the mentality that it doesn't matter.
"Alaska is on the front lines of experiencing the impacts of a changing climate. The average temperature here in Alaska and across Northern Canada is changing twice as fast as the rest of the world," said Hayhoe. "So what we're seeing is longer wildfire seasons, more smoke days, invasive species spreading north, rising sea levels, thawing permafrost, crumbling coastlines, receding glaciers."
In a vast state such as Alaska, Hayhoe says that Alaska has the resources to not only become a global leader, but to transform the way we think.
"Just as Alaska is one of the most vulnerable states in the country to the impacts of a changing climate, so too Alaska is already leading in innovation," Hayhoe said. "It's home to 40% of the world's micro-grids for generating electricity. If you look at renewable energy projects around the state, there is an incredible diversity of sources from biomass, to stream flow, to wind, to hydro."
These renewable energy projects will not only be beneficial to Alaska, but to countries that are living in energy poverty. This correlates with actual poverty, lower life expectancy, hunger and deaths from unsafe water and hygiene.
Hayhoe says that our society is powered by energy, which explains our need for it, but that we are entering a new era.
"Just as we no longer use horses and buggies to get around in the same way today we are undergoing a tremendous transformation in our sources of energy," Hayhoe said. "In many parts of the U.S., wind and solar are already cheaper ways to get energy — even including battery power — than natural gas let alone coal."
The single most effective fight against climate change is our voices and she has made it her mission to talk about the importance of speaking up.
"The most important thing that we can do about a changing climate is talk about it because it turns out when they survey people across the U.S. and they say 'do you ever talk about this issue, even occasionally,' the vast majority of people say 'no,'" Hayhoe said.
Although Alaska's economy still heavily relies on the oil and gas industry, significant changes are going on across the state.
The Renewable Energy Atlas of Alaska highlights several ways that one can further the production of electricity, heat and fuels without the use of fossil fuels.
One of the largest sources of renewable energy in the state is hydroelectric power, which supplies 24.9% of the state's electricity in an average water year. The state also has thousands of miles of coastline, which has the potential to provide energy through the use of tidal and wave energy.
Numerous projects have already been completed across Alaska in order to transform the state from one that relies on fossil fuels to one that is leading the world in innovation.
Those projects are already not only saving communities and tax payers money, but are reducing the amount of carbons that the state puts out.
It's projects like this that are opening the door to how we can tackle climate change in a conscious effort.
"We are entering a new era and in order to continue into that new era successfully, we need to think ahead about Alaska can innovate and how it can lead the world in create and original ways to generate energy in a very diverse set of conditions," Hayhoe said.
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