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More on Alaska

The cuts for higher ed in the state are bad, but there are a lot of things going on up north we need to think about.

July 3, 2019
 
 

I can’t help but wonder how I would handle a budget cut like the one facing public universities in Alaska if my library had to respond. The 41 percent cut is just of state funding, but that still would take some serious trimming. As John Warner points out, it’s death of a thousand cuts versus death inflicted by swinging a great big ax. Still, absorbing it all at once would take some doing, even though librarians are practiced at doing more with less, figuring out how to redistribute work when positions are trimmed or cut, and canceling subscriptions every few years. Doing that at such a scale would be tough.

It pales, though, in comparison to what Alaska faces, and what we will all face before long. The Alaskan economy runs on oil, and even opening new lands to exploitation won’t stave off the inevitable. The “Permanent Fund” that pays an annual dividend for every Alaskan is based on Prudhoe Bay oil, though it has been reinvested so it’s not reliant entirely on oil revenue. Still, it’s a permanent fund based on something that is impermanent, and destroying the natural world to drill more oil is only going to postpone the inevitable while causing irreversible damage.

The state is the canary in the coal mine for climate catastrophe. At the moment there are multiple wildfires burning across the state. Temperatures have been abnormally high.  The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. As the permafrost thaws, native communities that figured out how to live in the Alaskan environment for generations without destroying it are having to relocate as their villages slide into the sea. Interior populations are having their lives disrupted as the land they travel over to gather food changes and the populations of animals and plants they rely on face threats. In the southeast, the rainforests are suffering from drought.

I’m sure scholars and scientists from the lower forty-eight can travel to Alaska to study what’s happening there, and they do, but what a shame to defund research about Alaska by Alaskans, and to send more Alaskans “outside” for an education. Maybe the state legislature will override the governor’s cuts, but whatever happens, we all need to keep an eye on what’s happening to the natural world in Alaska, because what’s happening there is a sign of things to come.  

Oh, and all that research I linked to – that could be gone, too.

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