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Thawing Alaska communities still can’t quit Big Oil

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Rockies Today

December 13 · Issue #51 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Money and melting tundra
The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin reports from the edge of Alaska’s North Slope, where the annual temperature has risen 7.3 degrees Fahrenheit, which is, along with a sliver of Siberia and the Norwegian island of Svalbard, the fastest-warming spot of land on Earth.
Facing climate catastrophe, this Alaska town can’t quit Big Oil Facing climate catastrophe, this Alaska town can’t quit Big Oil
With global greenhouse gas emissions continuing to climb, and a new oil boom in Alaska on the horizon, there is no cure in sight.
Already, by nearly every measure, the changes here and across the state have been profound.
Sea ice cover in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas hit a record low of 270,000 square miles at the end of October, half of what it averaged between 1981 and 2010.
As a result, winters are warming. In nearby Utqiagvik, (oot-key-AH-vik) formerly known as Barrow, the average daily temperature this year was 9.2 degrees Fahrenheit higher than usual. By Dec. 12, only 32 days had been at or below normal in a year that so far ranks as Alaska’s warmest on record.
Less sea ice means more open water and more moisture in the air — which comes down as rain and snow. In the past three years rainfall here has doubled compared with the preceding decade, according to University of Alaska at Fairbanks professor Christopher D. Arp.
All that water helps dissolve the ice wedges in frozen tundra known as permafrost, which has warmed between 5.4 and 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit in the past three decades. Some 600 more lakes linked to thawing permafrost have appeared on the North Slope since 1955, according to UAF researcher Prajna Lindgren. And the oil industry itself is planting hundreds of refrigerated tubes into the permafrost to keep its infrastructure from sinking.
“Water is the death of permafrost,” said Torre Jorgenson, owner of Alaska Ecoscience, a consulting firm.
These changes are drowning Alaska Native towns. Twelve rural villages are hoping to relocate to drier ground, making their nearly 4,000 residents among the first climate refugees in the United States. Fourteen more are considered “high priority” for relocation.
All manner of wildlife have been affected.
Meanwhile…
BLM analysis shows climate price of Alaska drilling
A line in the sands
Canada to weigh carbon plan in decision over Teck’s massive proposed oilsands mine Canada to weigh carbon plan in decision over Teck’s massive proposed oilsands mine
More on Teck’s proposed Frontier mine:
Why the proposed Frontier oilsands mine is a political hot potato
The Financial Post on the big picture:
Should Canada shut down its oilsands?
Solar schooling
In rural Colorado, the kids of coal miners learn to install solar panels In rural Colorado, the kids of coal miners learn to install solar panels
More energy news:
Colorado lawmakers and community leaders demand state response after Suncor refinery incident
Once seen as a ‘bridge fuel,’ activists and politicians are turning on natural gas
The next nuclear plants will be small, svelte, and safer
Farm to market
Experts warn Idaho’s disappearing farmland requires urgent action. ‘We can save it.’ Experts warn Idaho’s disappearing farmland requires urgent action. ‘We can save it.’
It’s no secret that Idaho — especially the Treasure Valley — is changing. As new houses and subdivisions in Kuna, Meridian, Nampa and Caldwell increasingly replace land that has been farmed or ranched for more than a century, the warnings from experts are bleak.
If the current rate of development continues, a Boise State University study estimates 200,000 acres of farm and ranch land will disappear from the Treasure Valley by 2100.
While not all parts of the state are growing as rapidly as the Treasure Valley and huge swaths of prime Idaho farm and ranch land remains largely unthreatened by development, such a dramatic loss could change the future of the state’s agricultural success.
In December, the Idaho Environmental Forum gathered a group of local and national experts in Boise to discuss the possibilities for preserving Idaho agriculture and slowing what they called a “crisis” facing the state.
All agreed — reversing the trend was possible if state and local leaders took action immediately.
“We can save it,” said Josie Erskine, Ada County Soil and Water Conservation District manager last week. “This is how we have to start thinking — not about the sadness of the loss but about the possibilities of how this can happen.”
Meanwhile…
The hottest housing markets of 2020 are far from the coasts
Crossing to safety
Success of wildlife corridors in Banff park has advocates wanting more Success of wildlife corridors in Banff park has advocates wanting more
Wyoming antelope migration hindered by solar farm
Family secures conservation easement in Swan Valley; protects vital grizzly habitat
What else we're reading today
Aurelia Skipwith confirmed to run U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Utah tests ranked-choice voting’s conservative appeal
U.S. water chief praises Colorado River deal, but she also sees challenges
As California thins forests to limit fire risk, some resist
Wildfire smoke, once considered sterile, teems with life
BLM demands intensive review of test bores needed before mine above Glenwood can expand, cites public ire
ICE arrests and deportations down in Colorado and Wyoming for 2019
Rockies Today is edited by Matthew Frank, Fellow in Regional Journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana.
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812