Alaskans are in a quandary. Their economic “bread and butter” is also undermining their future quality of life. Oil and natural gas are the cornerstones of the state’s economy. Tax revenues generated by fossil fuel production enable Alaska to distribute to every one of its citizens a $1500 annual dividend while foregoing the imposition of any sales or state income tax.
Meanwhile, Alaska is on the front line of exposure to climate change ‘s adverse effects that are largely the result of emissions from fossil fuel use. Environmental degradation from global warming is most pronounced in the Far North. Consider that rapid melting of the sea ice, permafrost, and glaciers has already had a disruptive effect on the region. Several coastal villages have been forced to relocate inland because ofrising sea levels and subsequent subsidence. The accelerated warming of surface temperatures in Alaska has contributed to an increase in drought, forest fires, insect infestations, and wildlife habitat destruction with more bad news to come if corrective action is not taken.
Alaska’s senior U.S. Senator, Republican Lisa Murkowski, reflects the state’s conflict arising from operating at cross-purposes. On one hand, she has never encountered an oil rig she didn’t heartily endorse, and she is leading the congressional drive for expansive fossil fuel development on the nation’s public lands.
Yet in the next breath, she concedes that human-generated climate change is real and touts energy conservation as a proper course of action.
Alaska ultimately will not be able to have it both ways. For salvation’s sake, the state eventually will have to shift to clean, alternative renewable energy sources both in use and production to offset the phasing out of fossil fuels. It will have to diversify its economy through expansion not just of alternative energy but of tourism and high tech for starters.
Suspension of the annual oil bonus could be accompanied by the imposition of a sales and state income tax to fund the delivery of public services to all Alaskans. Ambivalence would vanish from the Alaskan psyche. One can only hope it would not be too late.