Alaska’s Search for Solutions to a Rapidly Changing Reality

This April 3, 2019, photo shows people running and biking at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage, Alaska, with the snow-covered Chugach Mountains in the distance. Much of Anchorage's snow disappeared as Alaska experienced unseasonably warm weather in March.

This April 3, 2019, photo shows people running and biking at Westchester Lagoon in Anchorage, Alaska, with the snow-covered Chugach Mountains in the distance. Much of Anchorage's snow disappeared as Alaska experienced unseasonably warm weather in March. AP Photo/Mark Thiessen

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COMMENTARY | Climate change poses current threats to the state’s biggest city. The mayor says residents are ready to come up with solutions.

It seems as if almost every day a new study is published about the long-term effects of climate change. Here in Anchorage, Alaska, we are sourcing creative solutions to the immediate threat climate change poses to our city’s infrastructure, economy and lives.

To get a sense of the challenges we face, just take a look at our city’s nearly 60-year-old port, the Port of Alaska.

The Port of Alaska is the primary point of entry for bringing goods into our state. It is also the main source of food, clothing, infrastructure materials and consumer goods for Anchorage residents. But the Port is aging and pushing the limits of its functionality in its current condition. If its foundation fails, the city would run out of food in six to ten days. The impact of time and earthquakes have exacerbated the Port’s structural problems. Climate change adds complexity—rising oceans and the changes in water chemistry and marine biology make design, construction and contingency management more difficult and expensive.

Beyond threats to our infrastructure, climate change also has brought higher temperatures to Anchorage and, as a result, we’ve seen more parasites, more lightning strikes and a longer fire season, all of which threatens public health and the well-being of our city’s residents.

Anchorage is proud to be uniquely global and distinctly Alaskan. With 300,000 residents, Anchorage is the biggest city in the biggest U.S. state and a gateway to America’s Arctic. More than 100 languages from around the world are spoken in our homes, our schools, our businesses and on our streets. Our community itself is one-hundred-years-old, but our first people have lived with its land and water for more than 10,000 years.

We want to be leaders on climate change—not only because our climate is changing twice as fast as in other parts of the planet, but because we can draw from a diverse tapestry of ideas and skills from people who know how to live and thrive in northern latitudes. To do that, the Municipality of Anchorage recently partnered with the Anchorage Museum to create SEED Lab, a center that will bring together artists, researchers and the public to propose and explore solutions to the challenges of climate change. Creating policy changes, as well as implementing day-to-day solutions to curb our carbon footprint and become a sustainable city, will help us meet future challenges that we cannot yet predict. 

The idea for SEED Lab was born from the city’s mission to find innovative climate change solutions and inspired by our interest in weaving together ideas from the scientific, policy, and creative communities to address the realities of life in the rapidly changing North.  This new center is fostering collaboration between artists, designers and city residents through a series of creative projects that aim to chart a path forward and establish the Arctic region as a catalyst for change.

SEED Lab opened on May 4 with a series of activities to coincide with the museum’s North x North Summit and Festival. The Anchorage Museum tapped into designers and artists to host workshops on everyday climate-related challenges, including bike repairs (to encourage a cleaner, healthier transportation option), DIY gardens and greenhouses, silk screening recycled clothing and ceramics repair for items damaged as a result of the significant November 2018 earthquake. 

SEED Lab’s launch was just the first of many opportunities for residents to collaborate with local and visiting artists, designers, and one another, to envision a resilient, and equitable community. In Anchorage, we understand it’s our responsibility to ensure our residents can survive and thrive through the changes we face. SEED Lab is a laboratory and space to harness our community’s brainpower and creativity to make a real difference.