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A survey of climate activism in Juneau


Thousands of people across the United States left their schools and workplaces on Sept. 20 to protest climate change. The same was happening around the world, just ahead of the United Nations General Assembly and Climate Action Summit in New York City on Sept. 23. 

Juneau beat them to it. 

As the International Forum of Sovereign Wealth Funds was preparing to meet in Juneau Sept. 10 – 13, people took to the streets and lecture halls to draw attention to climate change. 

Alaska is often called “ground zero” for climate change, and science journalist Dan Grossman emphasized the warming Arctic in his Sept. 9 speech to a crowd at the Juneau Arts and Culture Center.

He said carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased from 210 parts per million to 410 ppm in the last 150 years. The accepted healthy amount is 350 ppm. 

“The last time it was this high was two to three million years ago. This is a fundamental change to the planet,” Grossman said.

Grossman was brought to Juneau by 350Juneau, a local branch of an international climate activism group. The group timed Grossman’s talk and a rally to urge the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation to discontinue investments in fossil fuels. The corporation hosted the sovereign wealth forum, which includes several countries that have divested from fossil fuels, including Sweden and Ireland. 

Olive Brend, chairperson of the UAS Sustainability Club, was in the audience for Grossman’s speech.

“Seeing the turnout of that talk shows that it’s not only young people acting, there are people from all walks of life,” Brend said.

The next day, the entire UAS Sustainability Club joined nearly 100 at the rally outside the capitol. 

There were several speakers, including UAS Professor Emeritus Ernestine Hayes, who spoke about people all over the world affected by climate change, and History Professor David Noon, who pointed to Ireland and Sweden as examples how some sovereign wealth funds are divesting in fossil fuels.  

Another perspective on climate change came from Dr. Katherine Hayhoe, an atmospheric scientist and political science professor from Texas Tech University. In lectures at UAS and Chapel by the Lake, Hayhoe detailed the different reasons people do or don’t talk about climate change, like politics, science, and religion. 

“How do we tackle this?” Hayhoe asked the Sept. 13 audience on campus. “More scientific study is not the answer,” she said.

“Don’t fall for the smoke screens, the reasons people throw up for why they have a problem for climate change, they aren’t the real reasons,” she said. 

Climate change talks will continue on campus this fall. Next up is Oct. 4, when columnist and author Kate Troll speaks on “Alaska Beyond Oil” at Evening at Egan. 

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