What my trip to Alaska taught me about climate resilience

By Rick Spinrad

Updated: 3 hours ago Published: 3 hours ago

As an administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, I cannot do my job effectively without hearing from the many Americans who work to protect our cultural heritage, advance our economy, and protect our environment. Every trip I take broadens my perspective so that the decisions we make in Washington DC are informed by those most affected by their outcomes.

Connecting with Alaskans is one of my top priorities, especially since Alaska is warming faster than any other US state due to climate change. This fall, a historic tropical storm, the remnants of Typhoon Merbok, hit western Alaska, causing flooding, erosion and crippling power outages, especially for coastal communities. The impacts of this storm go beyond the physical loss of property and property. Subsequently, we witnessed a loss of food security and the destruction of culturally significant places.

In order to minimize these types of tragic losses in the future, NOAA is continually striving to improve the timing and accuracy of warnings for these hazards. Increased awareness and communication will help us give vulnerable communities enough time to make the best possible decisions to prepare for these types of events.

In the spirit of partnership and co-creation of solutions, I recently had the privilege of meeting with scientists, tribal leaders, tribal organizations, lawmakers, emergency responders, fishers and countless citizens of Alaska, from Anchorage to Juneau, from Kenai to Nome and from Homer to Fairbanks. Seeing first-hand the impacts of climate change — which Alaskans live with every day — will help shape how NOAA helps communities, industries, and individuals in Alaska and across our nation prepare for climate change.

The Alaskans I have met understand the realities of climate. Tribal elders tell stories of communities going hungry and not having enough salmon to feed their people. A fish processing plant in Nome that was set up to process salmon, halibut and crab is now receiving species like Pacific cod, which they are not equipped for, due to changes in fish populations. Pisces. And Alaska Natives have to travel twice as far to hunt walruses and whales because of the loss of sea ice.

They also recognize the need for action. Villagers plan to relocate their entire communities as coastal erosion eats away at their villages and melting permafrost destroys their homes. State legislators and U.S. senators share the concerns of their constituents and seek opportunities for federal and state governments to come together to support Alaska’s climate adaptation needs.

The Alaska I have returned from is radically different from the state I first visited nearly 50 years ago as a young scientist. These changes underscore why NOAA is focusing its science and observations on building a climate-ready nation, and nowhere is this work more relevant than in Alaska.

Achieving the vision of a climate-ready nation begins with helping communities build resilience to their unique, growing and evolving climate threats. This is work that NOAA actively supports in Alaska through initiatives such as a pilot project with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. The program builds the resilience of Alaska Native communities to climate change by better understanding the threats and needed responses and can serve as a roadmap for how NOAA can support climate preparedness and climate equity in d other regions. This is also one of the main objectives of the new National Strategy for the Arctic Regionwhich has a strong focus on solving the climate crisis and supporting the livelihoods of people in the American Arctic.

In addition, the bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the recently passed Cut Inflation Act give us even greater ability to make the investments needed to accelerate climate preparedness as part of President Joe Biden’s pledge. on these issues. We will use these funds to restore coastlines, protect food security and help manage resources so Alaskans living on the front lines of climate change can better plan and adapt to what lies ahead. With enhanced capabilities, NOAA will work in tandem with decision makers to better understand how, where, and when conditions change, and to arm them with actionable insights.

We see the disruptive effects of climate change materializing first in Alaska. For NOAA, this is a precursor to what we can expect in the rest of the country, but also an opportunity to get it right when it comes to a coordinated preparedness response. . Together with lawmakers, tribes and tribal organizations, industries, and Alaskan citizens, we hope to help make it the vanguard of a climate-ready nation.

Richard “Rick” Spinrad, Ph.D., is an American oceanographer and government official serving as an administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. He is also the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere.

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