Recently on our Facebook page, we featured the incredibly sad story of the small village of Newtok, Alaska. This village of 350 Yupik Eskimos is being called the first American group of “climate refugees,” a community that will be forced to relocate because their ancestral home is expected to be underwater within four years due climate change.
The combination of rising sea levels, melting permafrost, flooding and erosion are destroying their village and their way of life. Other communities in Alaska are expected to face the same fate. If you think that this dire forecast would cause the state’s elected officials to spring into action, you are likely to be disappointed (but hopefully we can keep hope alive, too).
Rep. Don Young (R-At Large)
Alaska’s sole member of the House of Representatives, Don Young, has represented the state in Congress since 1973. His thoughts on climate change are summed up in the video above where he calls global warming “the biggest scam since Teapot Dome.” On his congressional website, his statements are slightly more evolved as he admits that climate change is occurring but refuses to attribute those changes to human activity. As you might imagine, he has consistently attempted to block action to address climate change or regulate carbon pollution.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R)
The state’s senior senator, who was reelected in 2010, is most well-known when it comes to climate-related action for her sponsorship of the 2010 Murkowski “Dirty Air Act.” The Murkowski resolution would have officially disapproved of the EPA’s “endangerment finding,” the agency’s scientific determination that greenhouse gases endanger public health. If Murkowski’s resolution had succeeded, EPA would have been barred from using the Clean Air Act to address greenhouse gases. EPA would not have been able to work with the Department of Transportation to reduce vehicle pollution and make cars and trucks more efficient and would have been barred any efforts to reduce or limit carbon pollution from power plants. Luckily, the Murkowski resolution failed.
Since then, Murkowski has given us hints that all hope might not be lost. Earlier this year, Murkowski said in an interview that climate change is “real” and “we need to fight it.”
Sen. Mark Begich (D)
Begich, who is up for reelection in 2014, is perhaps the best hope for communities like Newtok that are threatened by climate change. Shortly after his election in 2008, Begich took a group of senators on a “climate change tour” to highlight the effects already being experienced in his state. The tour included a stop in Newtok.
Begich opposed his colleague’s Dirty Air Act, opposed an amendment from Senator Mitch McConnell that would have hamstrung EPA’s carbon efforts, and has spoken positively about the need for federal action to address climate change.
As you can see, the range of views in Alaska’s congressional delegation is nearly as vast as the state itself. In a state that is rich in the fossil fuel resources that cause climate change, it’s no surprise that views on the issue are complex. However, as the soon-to-be-former residents of Newtok can tell you, this issue strikes at the heart of the state’s identity and cannot be put off much longer.