In Alaska, they know that global warming is real, because the average temperature has risen about seven degrees over the last 30 years. No other state in the U.S. is experiencing a greater change in weather than Alaska, according to Senator Ted Stevens. He says, “Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world.”
The Bush administration says the temperature rise will bring a longer growing season to Alaska, as well as ice-free seas in the Arctic that are good for shipping. But Alaskans liked their old way of life and aren?t sure the changes will be good ones.
In a village south of the Arctic Circle, high water is washing away so many houses, the residents will vote next month on moving the entire village inland. “I’m pretty sure the vote is going to be to move,” says resident Lucy Eningowuk. “There’s hardly any land left here anymore.”
In Barrow, there?s a heavy haze of mosquitoes where once they didn?t exist. Hunters are getting trapped on breakaway ice floes. Wildfires have been burning near Fairbanks, buckling nearby building foundations. This never happened in the old days, because the ground was too frozen. Beetles have invaded near Anchorage, producing the largest loss of trees to insects ever recorded in the U.S. Scientists say the warmer weather caused them to reproduce at twice the normal rate.
So many trees have been killed by the beetles that bulldozers are needed to get rid of them. Some of the dead spruce trees are 100 years old. So many dead trees increases the fire danger, meaning that Alaska could become another Colorado. “It’s just a matter of time before we have a very large, possibly catastrophic forest fire,” says Ed Holsten of the Forest Service.
Joe Perletti, who lives in Kasilof in the Kenai Peninsula, has rented a bulldozer to clear dead trees from the 10 acres where he lives. “It’s scary what’s going on,” he says. “I never realized the extent of global warming, but we’re living it now. I worry about how it will affect my children.”
Alaskan resident Larry Rude says, “This year, we had a real quick melt of the snow, and it seemed like it was just one week between snowmobiling in the mountains and riding around in the boat in shirt-sleeve weather.”
Glenn Sheehan, who has lived in Barrow for 20 years, believes Alaska is experiencing a large increase in global warming. “Mosquitoes, erosion, breakup of the sea ice, and our sewage and clean-water system, which is threatened by erosion as well,” he says.
The 800-mile-long Trans-Alaska Pipeline has had to adjust to rising temperatures as well. The pipeline carries a million barrels of oil a day and generates 17 percent of the nation’s oil production. Engineers are worried that melting permafrost could make the 400 miles of pipeline that?s above ground unstable. “We’re not going to let global warming sneak up on us,” says Curtis Thomas, of the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, which runs the pipeline.
Everywhere in the state, the permafrost is melting, causing roads to buckle, telephone poles to tilt and house foundations to move. “We’ve had so many strange events, things are so different than they used to be, that I think most Alaskans now believe something profound is going on,” says Dr. Glenn Juday, an expert on climate change at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. “We’re experiencing indisputable climate warming. The positive changes from this take a long time, but the negative changes are happening real fast.”
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