Ten Democratic candidates devoted a total of seven hours to the issue of climate change at a CNN town hall Wednesday. But they never discussed Alaska, according to transcripts, even though the state is the fastest-warming in the country.
“They’re in that election, East Coast bubble and that’s what they talk about,” said Mark Begich, a Democrat who represented Alaska in the U.S. Senate between 2009 and 2015.
Begich said it was “amazing” that there wasn’t more discussion of his home state, given that it’s “ground zero” for the effects of climate change.
“You betcha, they’ll get a few comments from me,” he added, referring to the Democratic presidential candidates. “I will send off some texts to the ones that I communicate with and say, ‘Don’t forget Alaska.’”
Alaska’s temperature has been warming twice as fast as the world average, and faster than any other state, according to last year’s National Climate Assessment, which includes an entire chapter on Alaska. Warming is suspected to have caused salmon die-offs this summer; thawing permafrost is threatening infrastructure; and coastal erosion is forcing an entire village to relocate.
“Look at the impacts, especially in the Arctic,” Begich said. “We’re like the lab of climate change that encompasses every element of the environment.”
The Democratic presidential candidates did devote ample time to policies that would affect national and global carbon emissions – which could in turn affect the rate of warming in Alaska. Many of them endorsed the idea of carbon taxes or fees, and some proposed banning the leasing of federal lands and offshore areas for fossil fuel production.
The word “Alaska” was uttered five times during the debate, according to transcripts – and three of those were references by Bill Weir, CNN’s climate correspondent, to a recent trip to the state.
The fourth time was when Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren said that in thinking about climate change, “We have to think about the whole world.”
“We can’t just think about cleaning up the United States of America,” she said. “We cannot think about from the East Coast to the West Coast, plus Hawaii and Alaska.”
The only other mention was a quick reference by New Jersey U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, when he was arguing for a ban on offshore drilling.
“Why? Because when we know they drill, they spill,” he said. “Ask Alaska. Ask California. Ask the Gulf Coast.”
Casey Steinau, the Alaska Democratic Party chair, said she and other party leaders try to bring up the subject of global warming in their conversations with national figures. And she noted that Democratic former President Barack Obama visited the state in 2015 to highlight his climate policies.
The state party, she added, will have a climatologist, Brian Brettschneider, deliver the keynote speech at its gala next week.
“This is really important,” she said.