Sandbags to limit coastal erosion near Kivalina are scattered by savage winter storms. Warmer waters have eliminated Kivalina's ice buffer, forcing the entire village to relocate. Photo: Mary Sage/AP
Alaska is already feeling the heat of climate change - in more ways than one. Rapidly rising temperatures have been melting permafrost and killing trees. Wildfires are burning away huge swaths of forest. Ocean acidification threatens the way of life of those of us who depend on fisheries. Whole communities have had to relocate due to rising sea levels.
Attorney and global warming activist Deborah Williams has alerted Sitkans that Alaska is more vulnerable to the catastrophic impacts of global warming than any other place in the country. As carbon dioxide levels continue to rise, Alaska's ecosystems degrade and temperatures rise more quickly than those farther south.
SCS is pushing back against climate change. Here's where we're focusing:
1) Senator Lisa Murkowski - Alaska's own Senator Lisa Murkowski serves as the chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources committee. That makes her one of the most powerful people in the world when it comes to implementing climate change solutions. Senator Murkowski needs to put Alaskans first - that means fighting climate change. Add your voice! Call or write to Senator Murkowski and sign our petition today!
2) Forest Service Management - Southeast Alaskans are in the enviable position of living in one of the world’s greatest carbon sinks. Scientists have discovered that the old-growth trees in the Tongass National Forest sequester amazing amounts of carbon in the soil. In light of this recent evidence, it is imperative that the Forest Service reconsider its Tongass management. Their transition away from old-growth logging means more than habitat preservation - it is a vital step to reduce the speed of climate change.
Alaskan Voices on Climate Change: A series of writings from those who call Alaska home on the growing threat of climate change
Climate change is hitting Alaska hard, threatening the very place so many call home. This series features a range of voices from across the state speaking up about climate change and their experiences working to stop it. Most of these authors aren't directly affiliated with SCS, but we are honored that they've taken the time to write for our blog.
1. Tristan Glowa, A College Climate Organizer from Fairbanks - Tristan here shares his story of how he became involved in the fossil fuel divestment movement and why he knows it is important to work for a safe climate.
2. Kengo Nagaoka, A Divestment Activist from Fairbanks - Kengo speaks to the power and necessity of the divestment movement, and to the troubles of Alaska's oil dependency.
3. Kelsey Skaggs, Climate Justice Activist from Juneau - In this interview, Kelsey talks about how she took up the cause of climate justice, and the litigation she is currently involved with that aims at getting Harvard to divest from fossil fuels.
4. Nathan Baring, Youth Environmental Activist from Fairbanks - Nathan shares why he cares about fighting climate change, and some of his thoughts on how people can make personal changes to contribute less to the problem.
5. Sijo Smith, a Climate Activist from Eagle River - Sijo explains how growing up in Alaska has driven her to fight for a safe climate.
The Real Price of Oil: A series on climate change, the costs of oil dependence, and paths towards a sustainable future
Climate change is taking its toll on ecosystems and the homes of people across the world. The people and nature of Alaska have been especially affected, seeing our lands go up in smoke or sink into the ocean. Our economy and government have been hurt by the use of fossil fuels as well. Oil dependence has introduced corruption and fiscal uncertainty to the state of Alaska. To protect the integrity of our state, our land, and our communities, we are going to need to find solutions that create a more sustainable society. This series addresses issues around climate change and other problems that come with oil, and discusses some ways out of the troubles of fossil fuel dependence.
1. What the World Pays for Oil - A shortlist of the many environmental effects that fossil fuel use has in Alaska and around the world.
2. Oiling the Chains of Government: How the Fossil Fuel Industry Corrupts the Political Process - This post explores the lobbying, climate denial, and corruption that big oil uses to leverage political power across the nation and the world.
3. Oil Spills into Alaskan Politics - This article looks at some cases of big oil exerting its political influence within the state of Alaska, both legally and illegally.
4. Divestment is a Way to Stand Up to Big Oil - An explanation of fossil fuel divestment, and an argument for its usefulness in fighting climate change.
5. Stop Subsidizing Climate Change - An essay on why we need to end the massive subsidies and tax breaks to the fossil fuel industry
6. Towards a Climate Just Future - This piece looks at some inspiring cases of resistance to the fossil fuel industry from around the world, and discusses why it is necessary for movement fighting against climate change to work towards climate justice.
7. What Sitkans learn from the Paris Climate Agreement? A lot. - This summary of the groundbreaking Paris Climate Agreement looks into what it means for Sitka and the state of Alaska.
Curious? Concerned? Confused? Try these:
USFS Report: Climate Change in the Tongass
The Sitka Conservation Society and Pundit Productions produced the short film “Rain Power” in 2010. Our primary goal was to encourage policy makers to support the expansion of Sitka's hydroelectric capacity. The film shows that a small community like Sitka can be a leader in renewable energy. It also shows that hydropower can be perfectly compatible with healthy fish runs. Since the film came out, the construction of the Blue Lake Dam has finished and a much lower percentage of city power comes from imported diesel.
Watch the film below
The Sitka Conservation Society began working on local action on Climate Change and Renewable Energy in 2006. As a small, island community with an isolated electric grid, Sitka is a good “microcosm” test case for figuring out how to transition to 100% renewable energy. Because we are so isolated, it is easier to figure out our energy inputs and energy outputs. Also, we are a small enough community to figure out what the best way forward is as a group. At the same time, we have enough infrastructure that our energy solutions can provide meaningful examples to the state's larger communities. The efforts that SCS has helped catalyze locally have helped Sitka look beyond an oil-dependent economy towards a renewable energy future. We have a long ways to go, but we have built a strong foundation. We hope Sitka continues to be a global leader in sustainable living.
Below is a timeline of Sitka's advancements in renewable energy development:
- 1958 — Blue Lake Dam Constructed generating 62,000 Mw of electricity. Original designers made the dam “expandable” for future community growth
- Late 1970’s– Green Lake dam constructed in response to 1970’s oil crisis and with the forethought of Sitka leaders that locally produced, renewable energy would best provide long-term energy stability; Green Lake System came online in 1982 and produces 60,000 Mw hours; SCS Founder Alice Johnstone was one of the Sitka Assembly Members who initiated this project.
- 2006– City of Sitka electrical department plans hydro expansion in response to increased energy demand, rising oil prices, and future oil scarcity; investigates two options; Lake Diana is a Red Herring. City finds that the Blue Lake Expansion, “following the foresight of engineers two generations ago,” gives amazing returns for a relatively small “hydro-investment”
- 2007– City of Sitka and Sitka Conservation Society develop a joint summer intern position to analyze and educate Sitkans on Energy Conservation to avoid resorting to costly diesel generation and increased carbon emissions. The intern, Amy Heinemann, a Graduate student at Yale,does extensive research and produces energy conservation brochures with in energy policy; effects of energy conservation efforts by Sitkans are notable. Copies of the energy efficiency brochures are available here;
- Listen to an interview with Amy Heinemann: here
- 2007– Sitka Energy Task Force forms— SCS is a founding member of a consortium of Sitka community members who begin to work together to combine public/private sector resources to envision Sitka’s energy future
- 2007—Sitka Mayor Marko Dapovich signs the US Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement
- 2007—Sitka begins investigating and studying ways to diversify energy sources using local sources including wood-to-heat in homes and commercial buildings, fish waste to biodiesel, new hydroelectric expansion at Takatz Lake, expansion of interruptible heating; use of heat pump technology , and expanded use of electric cars
- 2008—First Electric car arrives in Sitka; local demand outstrips commercial supply as American car companies fall behind the curve—Sitkans begin “homemade” electric car conversions. Listen to a Raven Radio story on that effort here
- 2008—City of Sitka signs Mayor’s Agreement on Climate Change; joins “ICLEI—Local Governments for Sustainable community network”
- 2008– City of Sitka Public Works and Sitka Conservation Society work with local Sitka Harvard Student Chandler O’Connell to do an inventory of Sitka’s carbon emissionsand total Sitka Energy Budget: See Chandler’s final presentation to the Sitka Assembly: here
- Read the full report: here
- 2008– City of Sitka forms a Climate Action Task Force to identify ways that Sitka can reduce carbon emissions. Sitka Conservation Society staff member Paul Olson and SCS board member Steve Ash serve on the task force.
- 2009– Sitka is not awarded a State of Alaska AEA grant to do feasibility work on a Takatz Lake Project but proceeds with planning and field work otherwise; SCS submits scoping documents outlining positive and negative aspects of the Takatz Lake Project. Read our comments: here
- 2009—Blue Lake Expansion project continues and proposes an expeditious timeline; community pools resources to support efforts.
- 2009—SCS invests in two summer positions on energy:
- Lexi Fish, local Sitkan with a degree in political science, is hired to campaign for the US Congress to qualify Salmon-friendly hydro projects as renewable so that Sitka can get federal support for our renewable energy investment. During her initial three month position, Lexi meets with both Alaskan Senators and delivers the community’s message on the need for investment in renewable energy. Here is a link to an interview Lexi did on Raven Radio on her internship: here
- Travis Clemens, an Energy Policy and Engineering Student from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, works as part of the Electric Department in a joint position to evaluate what renewable energy technologies could work in Sitka. Here is a link to Travis’s report on Renewable Energy Options for Sitka: here
2010: City of Sitka works with researchers to assess “Impacts of Climate Change and Variability on Hydropower in Southeast Alaska.” Read the report here
- 2010: The Sitka Conservation Society partners with the City of Sitka Public Works department to sponsor a joint position that will help implement the City Climate Action plan as well as help move forward City efforts in Energy Efficiency. Local Sitkan Juliet Agne serves on this position as part of an Americorps Volunteer program. Juliet staffs the Climate Action Task force which releases the Sitka Climate Action Plan in June of 2010: read the plan
- 2010 The Sitka Conservation Society produces the documentary “Rain Power” that tells the story of Sitka’s efforts to take action on climate change and become a renewable energy powered community. The film specifically asks law makers to consider salmon-friendly hydropower part of the nation’s renewable energy solutions and to support communities like Sitka who are planning salmon-friendly hydro projects. To watch the film, click: http://vimeo.com/16635495
- 2011- Sitka Conservation Society continues to partner with the City of Sitka Electric Department to create a joint staff position that works to provide outreach materials that educate Sitkans on how they can become more energy efficient, how they can conserve energy, and what state and federal programs are available for resources or financial assistance. This position extends from the Summer of 2011 with Americorps support to a full time, year-long position that extends to 2012
- 2012: SCS publishes “The Future of Energy in Sitka” report that outlines energy use over the next twenty years and scenarios for meeting energy needs and recommendations of needed efforts. Read the report: here
- 2012: SCS works with the Sitka Electric Department to create a local rebate program to help local citizens make investments in energy efficient appliances and heat pumps: here
2012: SCS and many other community groups work to continue to develop and implement actions and initiatives outlined in the Climate Action Plan. These efforts include:
- Conversion to Energy Efficient Streetlights
- Energy Efficient Re-model of Pacific High
- Materials Re-use Center
- Municipal Composting Effort
- Serve locally caught fish in Schools
- Energy Efficient Affordable Housing : http://www.baranofislandhousing.org/Programs/weatherization.asp
- City Rebate for Energy Efficiency improvements: http://www.cityofsitka.com/government/departments/electric/documents/RebateProgramFAQ_000.pdf
Sitka's two hydroelectric dams supply much of its power, but supplemental diesel fuel is still necessary. To lower Sitka's fossil fuel use and reduce its carbon footprint, the Sitka Conservation Society has worked to keep year-round messages of energy conservation and efficiency in local and regional media. Using public service announcements, articles in the local newspaper, and presentations to local government offices, SCS has informed residents about state weatherization programs, local energy updates, utility changes, and simple home weatherization projects.
Educating young people about energy issues is the best way to create an energy independent future for Sitka. To kickstart energy discussions in classrooms, the Sitka Conservation Society spearheaded a campaign of visiting schools. Our discussion topics included Sitka’s current energy consumption, Sitka's potential for energy conservation, fossil fuels in Alaska, home weatherization, and home and building energy audits. The program also included tours of the Blue and Green Lake hydroelectric dams. SCS is no longer running our Kids' Energy Awareness campagin, but we remain committed to providing youth education opportunities through our 4-H, science mentorship, and Fish to Schools programs
While Sitka is a small town, the Sitka Conservation Society firmly believes that it can be a national leader in taking on climate change. If small-town Alaska can take meaningful progressive steps, why not any other community? For Sitka to be a national leader in sustainable living is about more than just bragging rights, though. Alaska's air and water temperatures are changing faster than any other state's, making our state the "canary in the coal mine" for the rest of the country. Sitkans are especially vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change since our livelihoods are so intimately tied to having healthy forests and fisheries. Because of this vulnerability, SCS is committed to decreasing Sitka's dependence on fossil fuels and increasing our renewable energy capacity. SCS stands firmly behind projects like the Blue Lake Dam, the Energize! Sitka campaign, and the recent heat-pump rebate program that demonstrate that economic opportunities and carbon-conscious development often go hand-in-hand. We are convinced that Sitka's long-term economy is strengthened by clean energy projects and we will fight to protect Sitka's waters and forests from climate change.
When we burn fossil fuels like coal and gas, we pump more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This build-up creates a blanket effect, trapping in heat around the world. If nothing is done to halt this process, the planet we leave our children will be hotter, with more violent weather and less biodiversity. Can we do something about it and make a difference? Yes! Sitka Global Warming Group wants to help every person and community reduce their impact on climate change!
Energize! Sitka is a partnership between the Southeast Alaska Career Center and Sitka Conservation Society. Its aim is to make Sitka more energy efficient by providing residents with extensive professional training as well as certifications for “green” jobs in the areas of construction, carpentry, and weatherization techniques. Energize! Sitka also provides community-wide outreach for home weatherization and energy efficiency.
Educating young people about our energy issues is the best way to ensure an energy independent future for Sitka. The Sitka Conservation Society has begun visiting school classes to talk about our sustainable options. Lessons in those classroom visits include Sitka’s energy situation, plans for conservation, fossil fuels use in Alaska, home weatherization, and home and building energy audits.
The Sitka Conservation Society has worked to keep year-round messages of energy conservation and efficiency in local and regional media. We inform residents about state weatherization programs, local energy updates and utility changes, and simple do-it-yourself home weatherization projects.
SCS is keeping a close watch on how climate change affects the Tongass through our annual summer field work. This research supplements that being done by the Forest Service and others and includes monitoring changes in ice packs, glaciers, and plant and animal populations. While we hate to document the negative changes climate change is causing in the Tongass, having good data is crucial for our advocacy work and could ultimately prevent future harm.
The Sitka Conservation Society and Pundit Productions produced the short film “Rain Power” in 2010 with the primary goal of encouraging policy makers to support a hydroelectric expansion in Sitka. The film shows that a small community like Sitka can be a leader in renewable energy and that hydropower can be set up in a way not to damage fish runs. The film's goal was realized this year with the completion of the Blue Lake Dam.
Sitka is in the vanguard of Alaska communities looking beyond oil-dependence and into renewable energy. While we still have a long ways to go, we have built a strong foundation and we are showing how small communities are finding solutions for global challenges.
The Old Harbor Books Building in Sitka where SCS's offices are located, received an energy audit by participating in the Alaska Energy Authority's Commercial Building Energy Audit Program. This video series follows the building's audit, energy upgrades and expectations. Visit theCommercial Energy Audit program webpage for more information.
Video 1 of 5 provides background to the Old Harbor Books building and the community of Sitka about improving the efficiency of an old building. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.
Video 2 of 5 tells about the Alaska Commercial Building Energy Audit Program and Brian McNitt, the building manager's decision to apply for the program. Certified Energy Auditor Andy Baker explains how the building is benchmarked and what data is contained in the report. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.
Video 3 of 5 explains what the certified energy auditor, Andy Baker, recommended for the Old Harbor Books Building. Andy also explains what information is offered in a Level II ASHRAE audit. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.
Video 4 of 5 provides an explanation from the building manager, Brian McNitt, of what recommendations they tackled right away and which ones they will be working on in the near future. This is a collaborative project of the Renewable Energy Alaska Project and Sitka Conservation Society.
In the final video, the Old Harbor Books building manager provides his experience in the Alaska Energy Authority's Commercial Building Energy Audit Program. Learn more about energy efficiency programs for commercial and residential buildings and how you and your community can benefit by using less energy: akenergyauthority.org/efficiencyaudits.html?
There are countless reasons to ‘buy local' ranging from defining and maintaining local character to strengthening the community to stimulating local entrepreneurship and keeping money in the community. In a community like Sitka that can, more often than not, present a suite of challenges, primarily, a limited capacity to produce certain goods and commodities that other communities have easy access to. Not only are we limited by capacity, we are physically isolated and rely heavily on a barge system to provide us with many of the building blocks of an autonomous economy.
The solution is simple, build a local economy around the materials you have, wood. As part of the transition framework, the USFS is diverting away from ‘big timber' and devoted to diversifying forest product economics. This includes a Land Management plan that moves towards small scale, sustainable timber harvesting within roaded, young growth areas. SCS has worked to highlight this transition through community projects that demonstrate young growth and local wood as viable building materials. This shift in Tongass management opens Sitka up to develop a local workforce centered on our assets and ensures that we will capture the economic value of our resources within the local economy. The harvesting, processing and installation of local materials leads to jobs throughout the SE. This type of economy results in not just more jobs, but enhanced social capital in our communities, healthier buildings and the beginning of a robust building supply chain. Local materials means less CO2 emissions tied up in transport and less money leaving our community.
Today, more and more architects and builders are choosing local, sustainably harvested, produced or recycled materials. Enter Jamal Floate, local entrepreneur, builder and owner of Renaissance Construction. Despite the many challenges faced here in Sitka, he is buying and building local. He constructs projects with energy efficiency in mind and uses local, sustainably harvested wood products. His current project is a private home here in Sitka. The external and support components consist of wood products sustainably harvested and milled in Wrangell. Floate hopes to use locally harvested and milled Sitka Red Alder from False Island for interior finish work. If he does, the alder can be kilned and processed right here in Sitka by Todd Miller.
Floate is equally committed to energy concerns, not only are the bulk of the construction materials locally and sustainably produced; the house will be highly energy efficient. That starts with the design and size, the building footprint is only 780 square feet, and the finished square footage will be around 1000 square feet. Despite the modest foot print, the house will include a great room with vaulted ceilings, a large loft bedroom and master bath, guest bedroom, second bathroom, kitchen, utility room and covered outdoor deck. This is due in part to the materials, as well as the building envelope, technology and design techniques. The design incorporates a radiant floor heating system that is more conductive than other types of radiant heat, and will run off of water from the home's water heater. The house will also have a zero clearance wood-burning stove, providing exceptional heating capacity and improving indoor air quality.
Floate maintains that this construction model can be replicated in Sitka, and the cost per square foot is no more expensive than traditionally produced homes made with imported building materials. The combination of design and materials will result in a healthier house and distinct character. It starts with a paradigm shift, that spaces can be smaller and with more thoughtful design and planning they can be unique and efficient. This model is linking local businesses and strengthening the community. The possibilities are endless and could result in other opportunities in the retrofitting and renovating sectors of construction as well.
Did you build your own water filters out of cotton balls and coffee filters, make homemade rainwater catchment systems, or simulate oil rigs with sand and straws when you were in third grade? Neither did I. Third graders in Chris Bryner's class got to embark on a journey to learn all about water conservation in and around the Tongass over the course of the last few months through a project called Conservation in the Classroom. This new program, created by myself and Chris Bryner, aimed to teach kids everything about water conservation and how it relates to their lives. Throughout two months, I taught lessons on how water conservation relates to things like pollution, waste, energy, water filtration, and more.
Chris's classroom is unique in that he uses the model of project based learning. This non traditional and adaptive teaching style gave me the freedom to let kids learn by building and being creative instead of talking at them. They learned how hydropower works by building their own water wheel. They compared this to oil rigs as they created their own ocean with layers of sugar and sand to represent oil and the ocean floor. They saw as they pulled the "oil" out of the water with a straw, the "ocean floor" was disturbed. Instead of me telling them, they got to create the simulation on their own. They could see how hydropower is a clean source of energy and understand how our Blue Lake Dam works.
We talked about the importance of protecting watersheds, which is a huge concept for third graders! Kids crumpled up paper to create miniature mountain peaks. I sprayed water on all of the peaks and they watched it trickle down to create this big watershed. We did the same thing with food dye and saw how far it could travel if you dump a pollutant at the top of a mountain. The kids watched it happen in front of their eyes instead of being told what might happen. After that, the kids asked f we could have a trash pick up day to remove all the garbage from Cutthroat Creek to stop it from spreading.
Sitka Conservation Society's advocates for protecting the Tongass and promoting ecological resiliency. By teaching third graders why conservation matters, they will have a better understanding of why the Tongass is worth protecting. Through these projects and others that the kids created, we all learned how even though water is abundant here, it relates and impacts other things in the Tongass and should be monitored and protected.
After exploring these things, the kids got to break up into groups and focus on a final project they were most interested in. One group investigated the benefits and drawbacks of the Blue Lake Dam Expansion Project. They went on a tour of the facility, interviewed key people from the project, and talked to Sitkans about what they thought. Another group wanted to know how to proper filter water. They did a Skype interview with a woman who builds filters for families in Africa. The kids were creative, inquisitive, and had incredible results. Conservation in the Classroom was a terrific collaboration between SCS and Chris Bryner's class. Students walked away with a better understanding of their landscape and how to protect it.
In honor of Earth Week, the Sitka Conservation Society invites folks to a screening of "Do the Math," a thought provoking and action motivating film about the battle between the fossil fuel industry and our future as a species. This film showing is free and open to the public.
Thursday, April 25th, 7:30 pm
Larkspur Cafe Watch the trailer: http://350.org/math Event details: https://act.350.org/event/do_the_math_movie_attend/4088