Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a just transition for Alaska

Of the 50 United States, Alaska best exemplifies the types of problems the rest of the country may well face in a matter of decades, if not years, if we don’t wean ourselves from fossil fuels.  The U.S. is in the middle of an oil and gas production boom, one that has caused oil and gas prices to plummet, with devastating consequences for Alaska, a state that has grown dependent on revenue from the oil and gas industry for its public funds.

However, if one only looked at the prominent outlines of the boom-and-bust, oil and gas economy in Alaska, one would miss a subtler shift happening on a much smaller scale: A more sustainable, self-reliant economy is beginning to take shape in remote villages and towns throughout the state.

While this sustainable economy is beginning to take root, it needs special care. In a report, commissioned by Greenpeace USA, entitled “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a Just Transition for Alaska’s Economy,” CSE’s John Talberth and Daphne Wysham write that this nascent economy in Alaska shows great promise but will require investments in the following key sectors if it is to thrive:

  • human capital—particularly in computer literacy in rural areas;
  • sustainable energy, including wind, wave, tidal and solar energy;
  • greater local self-reliance in food including produce, which currently is imported at great cost, and fisheries, which is often exported for processing, and manufacturing;
  • the clean-up of fossil fuel infrastructure, including abandoned infrastructure sites;
  • the protection of ecosystems;
  • tourism led and controlled by Alaska Native communities;
  • and sustainable fisheries.

But investment in these key building blocks is only the first step. Also needed are policy changes at the state and federal level that would remove subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, begin to internalize the price of pollution, and make federal funds available that are currently out of reach for many Alaska Natives.

Read more in the full report, here:

Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a just transition for Alaska’s Economy

Four ways Alaskans are moving beyond fossil fuels – Greenpeace and Northern Alaska Environmental Center



1 thought on “Beyond Fossil Fuels: Planning a just transition for Alaska”


    Thanks for the report. It’s important to imagine how things will work when the fossil fuels are gone. But concern about pollution needs to be allied with understanding the geology of depletion, since peak and climate are inseparable aspects of overshoot, and each constricts the available response to the other. Climatology is a science. Geology is also a science.

    I was curious why there was not a mention that the Alaska Pipeline flow has dropped from over two million barrels a day in 1988 to about a half million a day in 2017. If and when it drops a little more it will reach the low flow shutdown, since the contents have to stay above freezing and that requires a minimum flow (and heaters along the route). This is not just about the end of the annual state check to each Alaskan — it is also about the end of the resource that powers every motor in the state, among other things.

    Prudhoe Bay has had over 17 billion barrels extracted since 1977. The USGS estimated in the 1990s that the Naval Petroleum Reserve west of Prudhoe might contain 10 billion barrels but more recent official estimates guess about 800 million bbl. The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge might contain a billion bbl, some claim more than that.

    This is not only a concern for Alaska. Our state of Ore-is-gone is also totally dependent on Alaskan oil to run rush hour, Amtrak, PDX airport, container ships and food delivery trucks. We grow maybe five percent of our food in the Willamette valley. As conventional oil continues to decline and fracked oil peaks, we will experience oil rationing very different from the gas lines of the 1970s — which were temporary experiences.

    I like the idea of decommissioning the pipeline and associated infrastructure after oil, but I cannot imagine where the energy would come from to actually do that. My guess is there won’t be any decommissioning, since the end of growth of energy will also trigger economic and social shifts we are not prepared for either logistically or psychologically. My guess is it will resemble Oil Creek State Park near Titusville, Pennsylvania, where one can see early oil wells quietly rusting into the recovering forest.

    I’ve used solar panels since 1990, they are wonderful at summer solstice but they might not work well in the Arctic winter. Digital money is also not a substitute for actual stuff, including concentrated finite fossil carbon. I’ve not been to Alaska but I understand they use lots of energy to heat their buildings in the winter and to import things from other places. Many small communities have become reliant on airplanes (due to lack of access roads) and snowmobiles powered by oil.

    The suggestion for more tourism would further increase, not decrease, dependence on oil (cruise ships and airplanes aren’t run on solar panels or wind farms). Maybe sailboats could substitute for some of this but not at the same rate as the existing ships, and since batteries and hydrogen are much less energy dense than jet fuel per kilogram the only electric planes are likely to be scaled up drones for taking a passenger or two.

    I am not a fan of the idea of solar and wind powered war bases. Guantanamo in US / Cuba and Menwith Hill (NSA base in Britain) both have wind farms next to them but I’d rather see a cut in military spending with the resources (money, talent, physical things) reallocated for coping with energy descent and climate chaos.

    One thing I have learned from using solar PV is it could power a smaller, steady state economy no longer dependent on virtual money loaned into existence via debt creation. We have passed the limits to exponential growth on a round, abundant, finite planet.

    Post petroleum Alaska may look similar to pre petroleum Alaska.

    Thanks for reading.


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