By Kevin Wyatt
As an Alaskan and a fisherman, I must register my sincere displeasure at the lack of leadership of late from our two U.S. senators. Alaskans and their economy face an imminent threat from climate change and ocean acidification, yet Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich appear to prefer the easy playfield of partisan politics to the hard work of writing significant energy policy for our future.
Ocean acidification threatens our livelihoods. Scientific studies from around the globe — including some conducted in Alaska waters — have clearly demonstrated that acidification will have profound effects on ocean food webs unless reversed.
For one thing, the water’s altered chemistry makes it hard for shell-making marine animals to make shells, including forms of plankton on which Alaska salmon feed. Similar food-web effects will attend other commercially valuable species. If their food source grows scarcer, so will they, and we will see it in declining harvests. This will have a direct and negative impact on a vital state industry. The state’s economy will be harmed. Our way of life could disappear.
This crisis demands the immediate attention of Alaska’s senate delegates who ought to be standing four-square behind the state’s fisheries and the 100,000 jobs directly or indirectly supported by them. They should be working together and backing a strong new national energy policy that would cut carbon emissions and begin to reverse the trend of ocean acidification.
But instead of action on pending legislation this summer, we’ve been watching an irresponsible display of churlish partisanship from the senate’s 100 that serves no one. Unfortunately, our senators haven’t proved immune to this dysfunction. It is very disappointing. This is no time for playing politics.
Sen. Murkowski, being a member of the “no-to-everything” party merely to secure some perceived short-term advantage at the polls this fall does nothing to address the problems of carbon emissions and ocean acidification.
Neither does delivering poignant rhetoric on the senate floor about the need for energy reform — Sen. Begich — when it then clashes with the messages you deliver at home. You push for more drilling below the Arctic Ocean without also demanding demonstrably effective safety measures to prevent environmental disasters at sea.
The North Slope is a major source of oil, and Alaska has benefited greatly for some time. But in the end, that oil will contribute still more carbon to the atmosphere — the very byproduct that is causing ocean acidification and threatening Alaska’s fisheries. If we are to burn the oil, we must control those emissions by law. The two issues — oil extraction and minimizing emissions — should be inextricably linked; regardless of whether that oil is extracted here on the North Slope, or in Nigeria.
Well-crafted energy legislation will have additional benefits beyond cleaning the air and reversing ocean acidification. For instance, a price on carbon will foster a business climate that encourages innovation and development of clean-energy technologies and create new jobs right here in Alaska. Developing renewable energy resources will also make our country more secure.
It is time to focus on protecting Alaska’s future. What we don’t need is a continuation of the inability to act now apparent in the U.S. Senate. Don’t be a part of it. I urge you both to work together to reanimate pending energy and emissions legislation this year.
Future Alaskans deserve a better legacy than declining fisheries and the disappearance of a way of life countless generations old.
Frankly, you owe us more. True leaders don’t reflect the polls, they shape them. Are you up to the task?
Kevin Wyatt is a fisherman and contractor from Homer.
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