Climate Newsletter June 2023

Written by Matt Jackson

June 7, 2023

Getting Ready for Summer

Even if the daylight hasn’t peaked yet it’s now officially summer in my book! At SEACC we’re getting outside and in our communities more now that the weather is better and the legislature is out — for now. As I’ve been out talking to folks, I’m realizing there are a lot of misconceptions about how climate change is going to affect Southeast, so I’m going to start the newsletter by debunking two myths I’ve heard recently about climate change.


The climate scientist’s almanac

Matt shows off a tomato plant he's growing.

Matt is excited about his tomatoes!

First I’ll debunk a common myth about the “upside” of climate change. I’m an avid gardener and grower, and I’ve often heard people say things like “Oh maybe with a couple more years of climate change my tomatoes will finally ripen,” or “I know this variety of apple tree won’t do well now, but it might do great in 20 years when it’s warmer” from fellow gardeners. I’ve been tempted to think the same way myself. 

But most climate models for Southeast Alaska are consistent — our summers won’t be getting very much warmer, but they are more likely to get a lot wetter. Think about it — your tomatoes won’t care very much if it’s 62 degrees out instead of 60, but they definitely will not appreciate extra rain and cloudy days. They need lots of sun to thrive. We all empathize, right? Unless we deal with climate change very soon and very aggressively, Southeast Alaska is likely to get wetter, not warmer, summers. Sorry gardeners.

Will that nice oceanfront home be underwater?

Driving down the road in Sitka last week, a friend made a comment about a nice house on the beach, but how they would never buy oceanfront property because of rising sea levels. Southeast Alaska glaciers are melting rapidly and that glacial meltwater is definitely raising sea levels — by at least two feet globally by 2100, even if we do a good job of cutting emissions, or by up to 8 feet if we fail to address emissions. This will be a global catastrophe of a massive order, flooding cities from New York to Calcutta, but in Southeast Alaska, this will be at least partially offset by the very same glaciers melting. 

As the massive weight of the glaciers recedes, the land itself is “rebounding” meaning that in Juneau, for example, sea level is expected to stay pretty much the same between now and 2100. We call this isostatic rebound, and it’s literally the crust of the earth lifting back up after being weighed down by megatons of ice for millennia. It’s kind of like a sponge re-expanding after you squish it, but at a geological timescale. Which means the sea level rise in Sitka might be measured in inches, rather than feet, but as you head further south away from the melting glaciers there is less rebounding left to happen, meaning Ketchikan and Craig are at greater risk. I hope all this helps your real estate decision making process!

So, will that nice oceanfront home be underwater? It’s up to our governments, honestly. Individual consumption choices are a necessary but woefully insufficient part of the climate equation. That’s why SEACC focuses on the policy, where our governments can make big, systemic changes, working alongside state partners at the Alaska Climate Alliance and national partners like the National Wildlife Federation. In a best-case scenario, that house in Sitka, and the rest of Southeast Alaska’s oceanfront, will stay above water. In a worst case scenario with multiple degrees of warming and 8 feet of sea level rise, we are in for a world of pain, suffering and extinction. 

So how are our governments doing? We’re making progress in some areas, steps back in others. This year the Alaska legislature made the Renewable Energy Fund permanent, and set aside $17.5 million for renewable projects, good steps in the right direction. We’ll have more opportunities to pass bills like the Green Bank and the Renewable Portfolio Standard next year. At the federal level, it seems like Biden’s best days are behind him. While the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act were two big steps forward, the country has taken a step back in the wrong direction with permitting for Willow, AKLNG and, most recently, the Mount Valley Pipeline and NEPA rollbacks. 

How exactly the changes to NEPA will work is still subject to interpretation, and SEACC will be following closely and updating our community. Ironically, those interpretations are likely to be decided via lengthy and expensive litigation, exactly what the the advocates of NEPA rollbacks claim they are trying to avoid.

Bringing it in for a Bonfire!

It’s been a wild spring for SEACC and for the climate movement, and there’s lots to talk about! On Thursday, June 15, SEACC is hosting two bonfires, one in Juneau and one in Sitka. The Juneau bonfire will be at Skater’s Cabin from 6-8 p.m. I’m hosting the Sitka bonfire at the South Shelter of the Rec starting at 5:30 p.m. on the 15th! If you’re in Sitka, I hope you stop by and say hello! We don’t have to talk about climate stuff, although you know I’ll be happy to. Just catching up is important too.

Whether you’re in Sitka, Juneau or somewhere else SEACC is traveling this summer (looking at you Coffman Cove, Blueberry Fest, and Haines State Fair!) I hope we see you soon!

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