Alaska’s infrastructure innovation can lead by example and innovate
Updated: 48 minutes ago Posted: 1 hour ago
Alaska’s infrastructure was built to withstand the challenges: From earthquakes to temperatures well below freezing, we build knowing it will have to endure some of the harshest conditions on Earth. However, as our climate changes, these conditions also change, and the way we build must adapt accordingly. Reflecting the urgency of the challenges we face, President Joe Biden recently signed the Law on investment in infrastructure and employment enacted after its passage by the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support. Alaskans are innovators – there is no doubt about it – and our state is certainly up to this challenge. Across Alaska, several efforts are already underway to ensure that the places we live, work, learn and recreate can withstand the conditions that we will face in the future – and that we already face today.
The Denali Commission, as an independent federal agency aimed at providing essential public services, infrastructure and economic support throughout the state, particularly in rural areas, supports communities particularly vulnerable to environmental change. The Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), now part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), works to advance the development of climate-appropriate shelters, especially in arctic environments. Capital city, an Alaskan investment company, has supported remote housing projects, particularly on the North Slope. These three organizations, while employing a wide range of approaches, recognize that better and more resilient infrastructure generally means more energy efficient infrastructure, resulting in infrastructure upgrades that are beneficial for people and the planet.
As the people of Alaska experience increased erosion, flooding, and permafrost degradation, all of which are exacerbated by climate change, a better-built environment is the answer to safe and healthy life in our environment today. Investing in critical infrastructure today will prevent these impacts from getting worse in the future. The opportunities in resilient infrastructure extend beyond solid homes and less reliance on fossil fuels. Rethinking the way we build infrastructure will create jobs through workforce development programs that train people to build differently while taking local knowledge and merging it with existing tool sets. By involving the communities and peoples where this infrastructure is built, we can co-develop what works for each community and their environment. Especially in remote Alaskan communities and Alaskan natives, it takes a holistic approach to thrive. Infrastructure development should not be about housing, economy or energy alone, but rather take a multi-faceted approach encompassing all aspects. As infrastructure development incorporates both western and indigenous wisdom, each community is able to take control of its own future.
The concept of a more holistic approach to infrastructure – in that it is not just about roads and bridges, but also houses, energy and jobs – has emerged in the our whole government. Senator Lisa Murkowski, as one of the architects of the bill, ensured that it included a number of provisions aimed not only at Alaska itself, but also climate and energy issues. In addition to providing money for roads and bridges, the bill also provides funding for the processing and manufacture of batteries, electric ferries, assistance to tribes adapting to climate change and projects to renewable energy statewide – all awarded through a competitive grant process.
This bill provides a one-time investment for Alaska to expand climate adaptation programs, address access to water, continue infrastructure development through the Denali Commission, develop our ports and investing in resilience. It provides $ 550 billion in new spending over the next five years, growing the U.S. economy, creating jobs and fighting inflation – all without raising taxes – and made possible by our delegation from the Congress of Alaska in Washington, DC So, to Senator Murkowski, Sen Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young: Alaska thanks you.
With our Congressional delegation at the intersection of infrastructure and climate in Washington, DC, and organizations like the Denali Commission, CCHRC-NREL, communities, tribes and others joining them through the state, Alaska has the ability to demonstrate what a more resilient, sustainable built environment looks like. Our climate is changing, and it is time to ensure that our approach to infrastructure changes with it so that we can continue to live in this incredible state that we call home for generations to come.
Jackie QataliÃ±a Schaeffer is an indigenous chief and tribe member of the indigenous village of Kotzebue. Cathy Giessel is a longtime Alaskan, former State Senator, President of the Senate and Chair of the Senate Resources Committee. Cathy lives in Anchorage and is a nurse practitioner. Bruno Grunau is Regional Director of the Cold Climate Housing Research Center at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Fairbanks. The center researches and demonstrates homes and construction technologies throughout Alaska that are suited to climate and culture.
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