Northern, Southern Leaders Petition to Protect the Arctic from Climate Change
Press Release Date: September 30, 2009
Location: Washington, D.C.
Oceana, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the Native Village of Shishmaref Alaska, Ocean Conservancy, Juneau Mayor Bruce Botelho, Alaska Conservation Solutions and the mayors of Pacific Grove, California and Homer, Alaska today petitioned the federal government to protect the health and welfare of the Arctic and, ultimately, the world by establishing comprehensive regulations for greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. The petition brings forth extensive scientific information on climate change impacts already happening in the Arctic and how those impacts will affect the rest of the planet, and requests the Environmental Protection Agency take immediate actions to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
“We’re all in the same boat–whether you live in northern Alaska or southern California, we all have a stake in the enormous impacts climate change is already having on the Arctic,” said Keith Addis, Chairman of Oceana’s Board of Directors. “Quite simply, as goes the Arctic, so goes the planet.”
The Arctic is facing the most immediate and profound impacts from climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions. Arctic sea ice is disappearing at an alarming rate, which has dramatic consequences for polar bears, walruses and other animals, as well as huge implications for the people who live on the Arctic coast and rely on Arctic marine ecosystems for food and transportation. Arctic communities, including Shishmaref Alaska, are threatened by coastal erosion caused by melting permafrost, and some communities may be forced to relocate altogether if current trends continue.
“Things were a lot different, and a lot more fun, when I was younger. The marine mammals were close and it was easier to get the food we needed,” said Stanley Tocktoo of Shishmaref, Alaska. “Now everything is more risky and unpredictable because sea ice and other things are changing. I hope we can save Shishmaref so that my kids can have the same ability that I had-it’s our kids who will suffer if we can’t.”
Changes in the Arctic also will affect communities across the globe. Coastal communities, including San Francisco, could be flooded by rising sea levels or be forced to deal with other consequences of changing marine currents and rising ocean temperatures and acidity levels. In addition, changes in the Arctic could accelerate climate change worldwide, increasing the frequency and intensity of storms and the likelihood of droughts, fires and other calamities.
“Coastal communities around the globe, including San Francisco, could be harmed by rising sea levels and ocean temperatures,” said Mayor Gavin Newsom of San Francisco. “In response, we are joining with other coastal cities in asking the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases and move forward with this new blueprint for progress.”
Along with an inherent role in the speeding or slowing of climate change, the Arctic also plays a critical role in how the planet regulates itself, serving as an “air conditioner” for the globe and having a crucial role in the planet’s air and ocean currents. The decline of Arctic sea ice provides measurable evidence suggesting that we may be approaching a point beyond which dangerous interference with the global climate system will result in significant impacts to the rest of the United States and the world. As actions are taken to address climate change, the eventual success of those efforts can also be measured by increasing levels of Arctic sea ice as greenhouse gas emissions decline.
“As the Arctic melts, California feels the heat. The Arctic is where these impacts are seen first, but the effects experienced by Alaska communities are not only crucial to the people who there, they are a wake up call that our economies and communities are at risk everywhere,” said Dr. Denny Kelso, Executive Vice-President for Ocean Conservancy. “In California, longer wildfire seasons and fewer water resources are just two examples of the price we pay for doing nothing.”
A growing list of Alaska and national mayors continue to support the petition. One such mayor is Bruce Botelho of Alaska’s capital city of Juneau, who joined in the petition based on the impacts seen to Alaska. Mayor Botelho also witnessed the ability of individuals to reduce their own use of emissions-causing electricity. Earlier this year, an avalanche knocked out transmission cables for Juneau’s main electricity facility, leading to a 500% increase in electricity rates overnight. In response the community collectively reduced electricity use by almost 40%, a powerful reminder of the potential for individual conservation to make an enormous difference in reducing emissions.
“Individually and collectively, we hold the key to the environment that our children, grandchildren and generations beyond will inherit,” said Mayor Bruce Botelho of Juneau. “The path most likely to lead to a healthy, vibrant planet is a combination of individual initiative and the robust exercise of governmental authority.”
The Arctic Climate Change Petition calls on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use its authority to protect the health and welfare of the Arctic and, ultimately, all of us, by regulating greenhouse gas emissions. It urges the EPA to move quickly, particularly in light of the impacts already being felt in Arctic regions across the world, but more specifically in Alaska.
The petition also:
- Calls upon the EPA to implement a comprehensive system of greenhouse gas emission regulations to stop global warming and ocean acidification without negatively affecting our economy, and thereby protect American citizens, the rest of the Arctic, and the world.
- Requests immediate action to adopt these regulations and acknowledge the imperative that the United States work with other countries in an effort to develop an international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere to a sustainable level below 350 parts per million.
- States that in undertaking these efforts, the United States and other countries must maintain a strong economy by making a strategic transition to renewable energy sources and infrastructure.
- Serves as both a stand alone legal request and a set of public comments for the Massachusetts vs. EPA Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. The Arctic Climate Change Petition complements strategies to pass cap and trade legislation in Congress and furthers the goal of Mayor Newsom’s Climate Protection Agreement.
The petition describes the impacts climate change is having in the Arctic right now and makes the case that EPA must regulate greenhouse gases using the authority granted it under the Clean Air Act to protect the public health and welfare. The petitioners chose this approach because the authority the Clean Air Act grants EPA is currently the only mechanism through which a federal agency could regulate emissions of greenhouse gases.
- The Honorable Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco, California
- The Native Village of Shishmaref, Alaska
- The Honorable Bruce Botelho, Mayor of Juneau, Alaska
- Ocean Conservancy
- The Honorable Dan Cort, Mayor of Pacific Grove, California
- The Honorable James Hornaday, Mayor of Homer, Alaska
- Alaska Conservation Solutions
The petition was also supported by 84 scientists; a Congressional support letter signed by 17 Members of Congress; and a support letter signed by environmental organizations.
How this fits in with efforts in Washington, D.C.
The petition complements the current national effort to pass cap and trade legislation through Congress. A cap and trade system requires some level of Federal agency regulation of emissions in order to enforce the caps in such a system. This petition advances the Federal government’s regulatory power that can be utilized in a cap and trade system that ultimately gets enacted through Congressional legislation. So a regulatory and legislative approach work in tandem-regulations on one hand to put in place limits, and a cap and trade system to spur innovation and allow companies to make decisions about how to meet limits.
“We are already a day late and a dollar short in addressing global climate change,” said Addis. “Whether you are in Shishmaref or San Francisco, we are all in the same boat; and it will take strong leadership, resolve, and a committed populace to solve this crisis. This petition is a great start for the United States to step up and be a responsible world citizen.”
Jamie Karnik, Oceana – (907) 321-2295
Brian Purchia, Office of Mayor Gavin Newsom – (415) 554-7135
Dr. Dennis Takahashi-Kelso, Ocean Conservancy – (415) 298-5437