City Climate Corner

Anchorage Alaska: Rewriting the narrative

Episode Summary

What does it look like to engage in a just transition? How can city climate action benefit from inclusive engagement? How do you change an entrenched fossil fuel story about the Alaskan economy? We interview Ruth Miller of Native Movement, Polly Carr of the Alaska Center, Kendra Closter of Native Peoples Action, and Shaina Kilcoyne with the City of Anchorage and learn about the impact local entities can have when they work together to address big issues.

Episode Notes

What does it look like to engage in a just transition? How can city climate action benefit from inclusive engagement? How do you change an entrenched fossil fuel story about the Alaskan economy? We interview Ruth Miller of Native Movement, Polly Carr of the Alaska Center, Kendra Closter of Native Peoples Action, and Shaina Kilcoyne with the City of Anchorage and learn about the impact local entities can have when they work together to address big issues.

Make sure to also check out our Anchorage youth episode where we interview 16 year old Emily Taylor about her climate story.


Episode Transcription

Podcast Intro

Abby Finis  00:02

Cities produce more than 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Big cities get a lot of attention. But most household emissions in the US actually come from communities outside urban cores, making them critical players in climate mitigation and climate justice. City Climate Corner explores how these small and mid-sized cities are tackling climate change and moving toward an equitable and sustainable future. I'm Abby Finis.

Larry Kraft  00:23

And I'm Larry Kraft. We're co-hosts for City Climate Corner.

Episode Intro

Larry Kraft  00:32

So this episode, this is one that you really, you identified from prior contacts and things that you know, so tell us what we're going to be hearing today,

Abby Finis  00:42

When we started thinking about different cities, different places that we wanted to have conversations with folks, Alaska jumped out immediately as a place that I was interested in, because it is a place that we think about as deeply rich with natural resources and this kind of amazing environment. That is, there's that juxtaposition of this very heavily extractive economy that's happening there. And the state has become dependent upon money that comes from extraction of oil and gas there, which is harming the other resources that it has. It’s harming the fisheries. It's one of the fastest warming places certainly in this country, if not the world, and is experiencing a lot of firsthand climate impacts. And so it just has all of these different pieces happening. And there's a lot of activity around climate action and Anchorage had this great Climate Action Plan that I was reviewing and so I just really wanted to reach out and see what's going on in Alaska. And so I reached out to some folks at the city, as well as I had just seen this webinar where Kendra Closter was speaking and reached out to her, and talked to them about some ideas they might have for what this episode could look like.

Larry Kraft  02:23

Let's hear it.

Abby Finis  02:24

Let's do it.

Introductions and Land Acknowledgement

Abby Finis  02:29

Alright, to kick off our first city episode, we have an incredible panel of guests from Anchorage Alaska. These amazing women will speak to the collaborative forces working together to drive a just transition and how these efforts are rooted in practices of Alaska Native peoples. Welcome everybody. We're gonna have each of our guests introduce themselves but first I want to turn it over to Ruth Miller for a land acknowledgement

Ruth Miller  02:54

Land Acknowledgement in the indigenous Dena'ina language. 

Ruth Miller  03:07

Hello everyone. My Dena'ina name is Łch'avaya K'isen and my English name is Ruth Miller. And I am so so proud to be calling in today from the lands of the lower Tanana Dené in the interior of Alaska, what's now called Fairbanks, but my family is from the Lake Clark region and I live in work on my homelands Dena'ina lands of Dgheyay Kaq', otherwise known as Anchorage, Alaska. And when we do a land acknowledgement, we're not just honoring the ancestral and perpetual relationship that our indigenous peoples have with our lands and with their places that raised them, that created their cultures, that dictated their languages. But we're also sharing a commitment. We're sharing a promise to the ever present protection of those lands and the need for responsibility in respect of those lands and waterways that we're all honored to be guests on. So chiqinik for giving me the opportunity to acknowledge this beautiful land that I am so honored to be present on today.

Abby Finis  04:08

That's beautiful, thank you.

Polly Carr  04:10

Hi there, my name is Polly Carr. I am calling into this show from the unceded Dena'ina lands in Anchorage where I live with my family. I am a mother of a 10-year-old daughter and she is a driving force in the work that I do and why I am committed to working with the other incredible guests of the show on climate solutions and ensuring Alaska remains one of the best places to live and raise a family. I run the Alaska Center and the Alaska Center Education Fund and we are working towards a thriving just, and sustainable Alaska for future generations. Thanks for having me.

Kendra Kloster  05:03

Hello, my name is Kendra Closter. I appreciate being here with everyone today. I'm calling in from Dena'ina lands in Anchorage, although I am originally from Wrangell and Juneau down in Southeast Alaska. I am first and foremost a mother - my most favorite role in life. I have two kids. I am also the Executive Director of Native Peoples Action and Native Peoples Action Community Fund. I am Tlingit and German. So my family is originally from Wrangell. And then my dad's side of the family is from Yakima, Washington. Again, appreciate being on here and look forward to a really good conversation about climate and what's happening here across Alaska.

Shaina Kilcoyne  05:50

Hi, my name is Shana Kilcoyne. I'm calling in from the beautiful Dena'ina lands in Anchorage. I'm the energy and sustainability manager for the municipality of Anchorage. I live here with my husband, and we both work on advancing clean energy and conservation for the future of Alaska. Thank you for having me.

Indigenous “Remembering Forward” and Climate Change in Alaska

Abby Finis  06:11

Thank you, and welcome to all of you. I want to start talking about how indigenous communities have been taking care of the earth for many millennia. Ruth, what does it mean to restore balance and move back toward a more reciprocal relationship with the earth.

Ruth Miller  06:29

In my work as a climate justice organizer, we often incorporate the framework of a just transition. A just transition refers to the transition that we must make from an extractive economy based on exploitation of workers and extractive capitalism and a legacy of colonization towards a regenerative economy that's based on reciprocity, community care and wellness, and deep fundamental respect for our earth and natural spaces. But this transition incorporates not just economy as many interpret it to mean today, but economy as management of home. So that means we need to investigate not just economic models, but also how we engage the military or choose not to engage the military, what is at the foundation and core of our educational systems, what we expect from our labor force, how we incorporate healthcare and economy of care, to really permeate not just the various sectors of what contributes to an economy, but the ideology that undergirds the economy. 

So in our indigenous communities, this is very familiar because we're not just moving towards a visionary future, into the unknown of what this harmony and these new structures of interrelationship must look like. They're in fact very familiar to our indigenous peoples. They are founded on the reciprocity and the mutual investment in community in one another that allowed indigenous communities to thrive for millennia and continue to thrive today. So when just transition began planting seeds here in Alaska, we realized that even those words, we have to make them our own if they are to sprout and eventually blossom here in our homelands. So in honor of the lower Tanana Dené upon whose lands we were initially gathering, we chose to use the words Kohtr’ełneyh, which in the Benhti Kenaga' language means, remember forward, we choose to remember forward to bring the lessons of our ancestors and the teachings of the indigenous stewards and leaders of these lands into our advocacy and activism across all sectors and across all industries, as we think about how to reinvigorate all aspects of our economy towards a just transition.

Larry Kraft  08:59

I recently saw a report from the Environmental Defense Fund - Alaska is warming twice as fast as the rest of the U.S. Three degrees Fahrenheit in the past 60 years and winters are even twice as warm - six degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the past 60 years. What are the impacts of that? What has that done? How's it all connected? Kendra, maybe you could start.

Kendra Kloster  09:24

I think I want to first start off and saying when we're looking at Alaska, you know, for those who may not be really familiar, you know, I often think about this map that we pull up where we take Alaska and we kind of put it over the rest of the United States, and we see the Aleutian Chain starting over in California, all the way to southeast, which is touching Florida and then how big we are in between. So thinking about the landmass of Alaska and thinking about the different climates that we have here. I mentioned I come from Southeast, there's the Tongass National Forest. So I grew up in a rain forest. Although where Ruth is, you've got tundra lands, and you go even farther up north to Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, we think about the lands there and then all the way over, you know, to the Aleutian Chain. We are a very big state with a vast amount of lands and waters, and so we're looking at many different issues happening across Alaska. And so I just want to make sure that this is fully understood. 

So when I'm thinking about southeast and the climate change that we're seeing happening there, there's been times at home where we've seen fires and droughts, and in southeast which has really been unheard of. And then, just a couple years ago, we had massive amounts of fires, all around Anchorage and up and Beaver, there was all over the state, and we were just really waiting for rain. And then we're also looking at winters. And we really think about our hunting, fishing and gathering, our seasons are changing. And so as, as our seasons are changing, we're having to change how we hunt, fish and gather. So we see these impacts. And we feel these impacts so much into our livelihoods. The fish where our waters are warming, we're seeing fish dying off in unprecedented numbers. I was home in Wrangell, just a couple years ago, and the berries didn't even come out, they shriveled up before they even got able to pick because it was so warm. We're seeing ice up north that is melting at unprecedented rates. So in areas where you're used to using the rivers as like ice roads, and we're going out on ice. And normally, when it would be frozen in this time of year people are falling through because of the changing of our seasons here. 

And so we're feeling this in many different ways and in many different forms all across Alaska. And so when we're coming together here, we really know the impact of having to work in partnership and having to address these issues very head on. So we can ensure that we have this lifestyle that we not only are accustomed to, but it's more than that. Our traditional way of life is at stake. You know, I think about my kids, and I want to be able to take them, you know, out fishing, but it's changed so much. So how are we protecting our fisheries? And we need to make these changes now. And we have to do it together as a group, and really going forward with these indigenous values.

A temporary extractive economy story

Larry Kraft  12:55

Alaska is also you know, known for having a large supply of oil. Right? What tensions does it raise that you have an economy that is often based on extracting oil and fossil fuels there? And how does that impact the way people think about climate impacts?

Ruth Miller  13:21

I would just begin with a reminder that oil was not Alaska's only economy and Alaska had many forms of productive and lucrative economy that was successful in forms other than capitalism. And so when we identify oil as our current state money maker, we have to remember that it's only making money for an elite few and it is coming at a huge environmental and humanitarian price. And so when we begin to reframe Alaska, not as an oil rich state, but as an extractive oil colony, we realize that most of the profits from this extractive industry are not staying in state, are not trickling down to our laborers and our communities. But instead, we are seeing the poisonous and toxic impacts of these industries, not just as they pollute our lands and waters but also as their pollutants and petrochemicals leach into the bodies of our fish, our caribou, and contribute to severe respiratory illnesses and cancers amongst our people, infertility, and mental deficiencies in our youth, and so to see oil as you know, an economic boon for Alaska, it is only the process of taking oil out of Alaska to service extractive capitalism that you can possibly view it as a profit.

Kendra Kloster  15:01

And I just want to add on to that a little bit too, where we're looked at as this oil state right now, as you mentioned in your question. And in the past, we've had our state budgets that have been based off oil revenue. And now that is not the case anymore, we need to look forward, we need to be diversifying our economy. And looking forward to the future. And as Ruth just said so nicely, is this wasn't our economy beforehand. And this is not Alaska, and this is not our only story, we have so much more into the future. And right now, as we're looking at, our state government is basing our budget off of a resource that is not going to be around and not planning for the future, it's only dipping into savings to put us into debt. So this is great timing for these conversations of how are we moving forward but also in such a way where let's look before there was an oil economy. And let's look at all the different things that the indigenous community has had through this entire time. And so let's look forward with our indigenous lens, and this is much of what we talk about in the just transition. I think that this, you know, this group that we work with here, that Just Transition Collective, has a lot of the ideas and knowledge that will move us forward in diversifying the economy. 

Polly Carr  16:37

I was simply going to add that when it comes to story and narrative, you know, Alaskans have been told this story for years that we are an oil state we're a mining state or a state in crisis, and we know from everyone here on the show, and as Ruth and Kendra have said from the Indigenous Peoples of Alaska and young people in Alaska, and so many others that it's time for a new narrative, because we are a different state. The amount of our budget reliant upon oil is going down. But the tension that you asked about manifests very clearly in the political sphere, where that narrative that people have been told - it has really paralyzed political courage and bold leadership and innovation, especially at the state level. And that's why local government leadership is so critical, and really where the action is at. And really a place to look like our local communities, local indigenous communities and tribal governments, and local municipal government leaders, because there is no time for the political football, if you will, of climate conversations, there has to be climate action, because people are seeing, as Kendra said, people die. You know, we actually have climate deaths racking up in Alaska, and we have things falling apart. We have plans that don't have any climate adaptation or emergency planning within them. And so our local government leaders on the ground are seeing this firsthand and really taking leadership. That's why this is an exciting conversation.

Anchorage Climate Action Plan

Abby Finis  18:32

Great. Yeah. And, we're seeing that countrywide, worldwide, local leaders stepping up in absence of national and real kind of global policy. Right. And so one of the tools that cities have that local governments have is to develop and implement climate action plans. In Anchorage - we'll focus on Anchorage, specifically - today has a Climate Action Plan. Could you provide some background on what the impetus was behind that and how that plan was developed?

Shaina Kilcoyne  19:13

Polly, do you want to start and then I can kind of talk more about how it was done because you were a part of the beginning of it.

Polly Carr  19:22

I think what's important to note is that Anchorage had a Climate Action Plan written years ago, by the former first lady of Anchorage, that then sat on a shelf through some administrations, and it was really only in 2017, I think, when that plan got dusted off and brought back into reality, and then through the, I guess, I would say leadership, which I'll look to Shaina next for this, but the leadership of the municipality of Anchorage. And again, saying this is not a problem that we can push aside like this is something we have to be acting on. And local assembly members who then also voted to approve it. It was that local leadership that really, I think, set things in motion. I'll just say right now that I really appreciated the way in which the municipality of Anchorage - how government partnered with community in the actualization of this plan at every single level, and felt really appreciative that we were engaged. I'll let Shaina talk more about the process. But I think it's a great - and what they're doing now, which I think is even even more inspiring - but I think it's a great model for other cities.

Shaina Kilcoyne  20:53

It really was about that leadership. I came to the municipality as the first energy and sustainability manager in quite a few years. And right away, our leadership said, "we have to have a Climate Action Plan. We want it now." And so the municipality and the university partnered up to develop the outline for the Climate Action Plan and the structure for it. And we did quite a bit of research into other climate action plans, other cities and what they were doing to look at best practices. There are so many examples. I mean, a Climate Action Plan at this point is really a standard practice for many cities. And I am proud of the work that we did to incorporate input from the community. Thank you, Polly, for saying that. We pulled together, really it was about 100 residents from Anchorage on different subject matters to contribute to the Climate Action Plan. And we really spent a lot of time getting out to different geographies, different demographics within the community and introduce it and have a conversation about it and try to get their engagement in it. And I think that shows in the final product of the Climate Action Plan.

Abby Finis  22:13

Can you talk a little bit about what it means to have equity and democracy included in the plan, in particular, in consideration of the most vulnerable populations typically sharing the greater burden of the impacts of climate change and how this plan is looking to remedy that and engage more people and reach more people?

Shaina Kilcoyne  22:41

Anchorage is an incredibly diverse city. And it was obvious to us from the get go that equity had to be a core piece of the Climate Action Plan. This had to be through an equity lens. Climate Justice is just one piece of life, but it was important to us that climate change and the impacts - the benefits and the costs of climate action, need to be shared as equitably as possible. However, that is much easier said than done. It was a challenge when we went into it, we talked to other cities, who are looking at equity at the core of a Climate Action Plan, and it was really challenging. We spoke to quite a few of our leaders, Polly was on our advisory committee, and asked for help going through it and looking at this through the lens of equity. We found that the level of specificity was... it was just a little too broad to really say that this action does or does not improve or benefit people equitably. And so now we're focused more on how can we implement the Climate Action Plan through a lens of equity. So maybe we kicked the can down the road a little bit, but it's really in the implementation that we see where the rubber hits the road. And so we're working on developing a climate Equity Council that really will help us kind of review all actions that we're moving towards, through implementation. And it's interesting, I think, when we see this happen through climate change, because again, shouldn't we be looking at all of our actions in local government with this lens? Maybe that's something that we can improve upon with this as an example. And Polly has helped me with the climate Equity Council. She's been a part of that conversation as has Kendra. Their feedback has been really important so far.

Abby Finis  24:48

Great. We talked a little bit about the narrative of the Alaska economy being an extractive economy and changing that narrative. There are some inherent challenges there. What are some of the strategies that the plan includes to get over some of that, especially when you consider heating is primarily natural gas? Electric generation is primarily natural gas. But there is an abundance of other resources that are available in Alaska. How do you pivot from, kind of, the inertia of what exists to what could be?

Kendra Kloster  25:30

I think what we can really be doing is looking to our local communities, we're seeing a lot of projects that are happening with renewable energy. You know, we have hydro that's been happening. We have just so many different examples. I know, like, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida they've been working on (and they're down in Southeast Alaska). They've been working on a lot of climate adaptation work. And Igiugig has had some really great things happening in their communities. So we can really be looking to our communities here in Alaska and our tribes to be getting some of the answers to be moving forward. Wind farms, there's just a plethora us solar, there's been a solar project that's happening here in Anchorage, and I think Polly could probably talk about that a little bit more. But there's, there's been so much work that's been done, that hasn't been highlighted. And so I really think if the state and federal government started moving away from looking at just an oil mining state and and really pushing forward on this, diversifying our economy really looking to the answers that people have already been doing, that would be an enormous start.

Polly Carr  26:55

You know, it's mentioned here that Kodiak Island is 100% renewable. As Kendra mentioned, villages, village leaders around the state have been, we call it innovating, but really, it's that that theme of remembering forward, that these are just like ways of knowing how to work with the land and work with the resources in a way that's also really inspiring and problem solving. And so I think that, as Kendra said, being able to lift up these examples more and more as aspirational things for people to pursue in different locations, is one way of not really combating that former narrative, but redirecting it. And also just keeping in mind that people need something positive, right, to look forward to. And so I think that's one thing that we can be doing to show this is happening in so many places. Alaska doesn't need to be the poster child for climate destruction. It can be the leader in climate solutions, and these local communities can, I think that other ways to help people realize this, you know, at the heart of it, we connect more with things and we can see a personal benefit to our lives. And so the project that Kendra mentioned Solarize Anchorage, which now there's also a Solarize, Fairbanks and there's a Solarize Kenai. These are just projects similar to cities and other states, where residents can come together in a neighborhood, bulk purchase, bulk install solar, take advantage of the federal tax credits - which thankfully now at the federal level we have - that continuing opportunity and bring costs down. So you're talking about like helping people at their pocketbooks and also with energy costs coming down and bringing more renewables onto the grid, and creating a sense of agency over your energy future, which climate change is really overwhelming. But if people can reach out and touch something as a solution, it feels good too. 

The challenge with those projects right now is that they're not accessible to everybody. So I think that's our collective challenge, as we look at these projects is how do we make solar? How do we make heat pumps, which is a fun project happening down in Southeast Alaska, how do we make these accessible to all households in all income levels? So I think that like really providing these positive examples, showing people that it's possible, showing what the benefits are to this is really helpful. And then finally, I would just say we need to ask ourselves like, "Why do people want to live in Alaska?" It is that quality of life, it is being near healthy water and salmon and resources that sustain people and it's having opportunities. It's an expanding tech sector. There's there's all sorts of opportunity that we have to think about and really start framing that oil economy and that mining economy, those are archaic. They're has been, they're not the way the future and it's not really what people want. 

Shaina Kilcoyne  30:10

I'll add on to Polly's thoughts. When we did talk to folks about the Climate Action Plan, you know, I was often in pretty conservative rooms and would just kind of be pretty anxious when we were delivering the Climate Action Plan. But it really seemed like the residents in Anchorage were ready for this and are behind this and are excited because, yes, we have this past that is an extractive past that we're all familiar with, and that has really provided great things to our community. And so I'm grateful for that, that has helped build our cities. But um, you know, there's a lot of opportunity here. And when we talk about what kind of technology advancements there are, we have the opportunity to do a lot here and to diversify our resources. For instance, for energy efficiency it's shown that we can save about 25% on our buildings across the board. We can focus on architecture and advanced architecture here - we've got the cold climate housing Research Center doing really amazing things. We're at the cutting edge of the northern edge of the United States. And I think that's an important thing that we bring to the table. Like Polly said, there's plenty of opportunity here for solar, if you come to Alaska, in the middle of the summer, there is no dark. And so we do have, we have wind, we have the second greatest coastline, I think, in North America. So you know, as far as clean energy opportunities, we have those and those are jobs that are here, that can't be outsourced.

Elevation of youth

Larry Kraft  31:52

That's great. Strikes me, being in Minnesota listening to some of the areas you're researching and educating people, on heat pumps and cold housing research - that’s stuff that we're dealing with and learning as well, just you’re probably at a little bit accelerated level. So I want to turn and ask you about elevating youth voices. We had a lovely interview with Emily Taylor, who will be on one of the youth episodes we have. But I've been struck over the years with how well I've seen Alaskan youth voices elevated in the climate movement. And so can you talk a little bit about that

Ruth Miller  32:40

The elevation of our youth voices is one of the most central aspects to our indigenous cultures, but also our way of life. Here in Alaska, whether you're indigenous or non-native, we understand the importance of passing on knowledge of teaching generationally, and investing in youth as they grow into leaders. Whether that means, you know, learning from your grandma how to tan a hide, or learning from your dad how to fix your plumbing, living in Alaska seeds the need for co-reliance. And in our indigenous cultures, you know, we believe that it's our youth and our elders that are closest to creation and therefore our most precious and our most wise. And so when we consider processes and policies to steward a recovery of our state to steward the assurance of an equitable future, of course, it's our youth that know how to do that best because it is they who will be leading that charge and moving into positions of community leadership and elected leadership. And so we work across our organizations represented here and beyond to make sure that youth are not only elevated, but really invested in. That they're mentored, that they have opportunities to share their stories and validate their voices, not just, you know, parroting what they've been taught, but to deeply reflect on their life experiences. And all of that has gone into forming their attachments with this place and seeing that as power, seeing that knowledge and that wisdom as strength, so that they begin to identify themselves as leaders. That is how we make our movements sustainable by not only investing intergenerationally, but by making them holistically supportive and loving, so that we're caring for our youth, not just by making demands of them and throwing them into leadership unprepared. But by loving them. By treating them with tenderness. By being good aunties and uncles. By thinking about how we as a community can support our youth and elevate them to lead for the next decades and the next generation. 

Polly Carr  34:51

Yeah, and I'll just add on to that.  And Em Taylor is phenomenal. So glad and really looking forward to hearing her words directly. Young people in Alaska have been rising and meeting this occasion for years. In 2003, they brought 5000 teenager-only signatures from 150 villages and cities in Alaska to Senator Murkowski, her desk in DC, asking Senator Murkowski and other members of the delegation to seriously consider the implications of climate inaction on cultures, environment, resources. And despite not being met back with equal action by our elected leadership, especially the federal delegation, they've continued forward, and there are youth engaging in climate action plans, in Sitka. I think the Anchorage climate action planning effort has invited youth input, and young people have been involved with that. They're pushing their legislature and their Governor's, asking for action demanding climate task forces, young Indigenous women have made these demands in many other spaces. And so despite what I think is a very brilliant deflection by some of our elected leaders that again, I would say, at the federal level to say, "Oh, this is something your generation is going to solve. They they come back, and they say, "Actually, no, you're in power, you actually have to take that action now." And the beautiful thing about young people is they don't have tolerance for iterative change. And they see the intersection of climate justice and racial justice and, and we do too, but like, they move forward so beautifully on these issues. And as Ruth said, if we can just support them, and authentically elevate their voices, and have elected leaders authentically recognize what they have to offer, we will be in a much better shape.

Larry Kraft  37:11

I love that. It's a key theme for us in every city. We've been talking to, trying to understand the youth story there because they've had such a big role, directly and indirectly, in the climate movement. So it's something near and dear to our hearts. And I really was struck, Ruth, by the way you spoke about - it's the elders and the youth that are closest to creation. I hadn't thought about that way before, but that's such a profound way of thinking about it.

From local to state action

Larry Kraft  37:46

You know, one of the things that's really interesting about this stuff that's happening with you is that this Climate Action Plan has happened in Anchorage. But you've all realized that to get things done in a municipality, you also need state level action. So can you talk about how the action has either grown or evolved or how the interaction has happened from a municipal level to a state level?

Kendra Kloster  38:15

Go, Ruth.

Ruth Miller  38:17

One of our most powerful and most hopeful collaborations of the past year has been the rise of the Alaska Climate Alliance, which is a multi-sectoral alliance of about 100 different organizations with about 200 folks who pop in and off of our calls, working together across industry and across sectors towards climate action in a variety of ways. We come together under shared principles, and shared commitments to begin to share information, strategize around resources, and to begin to activate climate action in coordination with one another instead of working in silos. It is, we Alaska often we say suffers from the nonprofit curse, having a lot of different people all running in their own hamster wheels and, and often not getting very far. And so we identified this communications gap and this collaboration gap in our state and began to come together and manifest five different working groups that work in a variety of ways to discuss community care, to discuss renewable energy, regenerative economies, and more, both from a tactical approach thinking about policy, and also from a communications and messaging approach. So we have all these different organizations that might have different goals that certainly have different constituencies, but align under the need for urgent action and cooperation amongst the climate community. And so through this process, we've been able to elevate local community issues and the lived experience of have a huge number of community members with, you know, varied skill sets to come together in the same rooms and talk about our collective needs across the state. So I've really seen a breakdown of hierarchies in that regard. Because we see, you know, small community-based organizations, you know, that really formed out a couple neighborhoods, speaking at the same levels as the directors of much larger green groups that operate on a national scale, but have a lot of attention in Alaska. And so we are working always to expand our tribal and indigenous presence there and to ensure that we're working under shared principles that represent the lands we're living and living on and loving and fighting for. But that has been one example of a really beautiful sense of community and collectivity that we've been able to form and state. And Polly and Kendra have both been integral in this coming together process.

Kendra Kloster  41:07

I guess one, one addition I could add on, is I think why this Alaska Climate Alliance came together, and that was so important, as Ruth had stated, as we were working into our silos. Where as we come together, we can think about these solutions and collaborate and come up with policy solutions for local, state and federal, and tribal, and work together to make that happen. And so that, I feel is so incredibly important, because there's many different areas that we can work on together. And it's more than just policy. But that is a piece of it. But it's how we come together and can work in our communities. And we each bring so much to the table and share this information. And I really think it's going to be a game changer in how we work on climate in Alaska.

Polly Carr  42:08

I was going to uplift that I think one of the most powerful parts of the Alaska Climate Alliance is that it is centering indigenous leadership and the values of a just transition framework. Whereas prior, we had lots of groups, as Ruth said, in their hamster wheels, we had lots of groups doing climate work. So definitely in different directions and not knowing the full landscape of who's doing what, who can leverage change at the local level, who can leverage at the state level. But I think it's also that real rooting in indigenous leadership and just transition principles, that is the new part. And I think that makes us resilient, and more powerful as a movement. And it helps us develop shared language about what we're trying to achieve. So when we talk about climate justice, and equity, we have an opportunity this time around that I think, hasn't been as present in the past. So I feel grateful for that aspect of it. You know, one other way, when you're asked about like, how are local communities helping drive state change, or maybe benefiting from state change? I think that we still do see a lack of action at the state level on climate change. And part of that is because of the gridlock that we have, with our state budget and disorganization that we are experiencing right now at the state level. But there's a Alaska Municipal Climate Leaders cohort that we've convened, that has, I think, at least 12 municipalities around the state that are coming together and sharing best practices and exchanging information about how to form climate action plans, you know, what it looks like? What bodies of work, does it flow through funding, etc. And to me, in the absence of state level leadership, you can connect these municipal dots to form a network of statewide power of leaders who want to make climate action happen. So that to me is a way of influencing at the state level.

A vision for Alaska

Abby Finis  44:27

This has been such a great and rich conversation, and we've really enjoyed all that you've had to share. I'm wondering, Ruth, if you could close us out with a vision for just Alaska.

Ruth Miller  44:43

I think any vision for a just Alaska has to be rooted in justice but not justice only for the sake of eliminating the prejudice and discrimination and exclusion that we now face. But justice in service of joy. In service of shared joy across our Alaskan community. That means we can rely on community safety, we can depend on food in our stores and on our tables. We can go to sleep knowing that we are safe, and have mutual aid networks rooted in reciprocity, that are culturally informed. I think, justice for the sake of liberatory joy is the reminder that we all need, the gut check that we all need against policy that will deliver us through this climate crisis, and through this relatively short period of extractive capitalism that has brought so much trauma and pain for all peoples. Radical joy that was stripped from us through the process of colonization, settler colonization that we faced here in Alaska, and across Turtle Island, and so called Canada, as well as the Western Hemisphere, and towards a new future. Where we've successfully dismantled the patriarchy. We no longer rely on one form of monetary currency, to ensure that we have access to heat and water. I think centering on the truth, that we all deserve joy. We all deserve compassion for one another. We all deserve respect and reciprocity with our natural world, our plant and animal relatives, is at the core of any vision that I fight for.

Abby Finis  46:42

That's really beautiful. Thank you so much. And thank you all, for joining us for this episode. We really appreciate it.

Larry Kraft  46:48

Yeah, thank you. This is really great.

Abby and Larry - episode debrief

Larry Kraft  46:55

Wow, that was quite an interview. What did you think Abby?

Abby Finis  47:00

I was just really, you know, found it to be an incredibly inspiring episode and group of women who are on the ground doing amazing work to reach across communities and try to build upon each other to build support for rewriting Alaska's story into something of prosperity for all, something that returns back to what Alaska gives in a way that isn't harmful to the land. And is just all around, just great conversation and really rich and, and thought provoking I think.

Larry Kraft  47:55

One of the best discussions I've heard, where, you know, we often talk about, many people talk about climate justice, environmental justice, but I was struck by how all of the climate work flows from their story, and how the native story and learnings just kind of infuse everything they're doing where the climate work isn't an afterthought, but it comes from that, it doesn't start there.

Abby Finis  48:28

Mm hmm. Yeah. And I think that, you know, that's, that's the kind of shift and the kind of mentality that we all need to adopt, and take that approach for, how do we want to live? How do we want to be present on this planet?

Larry Kraft  48:45

Yeah, there's so many things that I'm taking from this, the concept of remembering forward was one that just really struck me. And then, when Ruth was talking about young people, which obviously is something really important to me, that the elders and youth are both so revered because they're closest to creation. And I thought that was just, it's true, right. And, you know, elders have the wisdom of the years and youth have the wisdom of youth and not being able to just to say, you know, we need to do this, no obstacles, we need to change things. So I thought that was really profound.

Abby Finis  49:31

Yeah, I really, I really appreciated that sentiment. You know, I think one of the most powerful takeaways from this conversation is how, what we're seeing, you know, across the country across the world, and surfacing of local climate action in communities is strengthened when those communities reach out to one another.  When more people are involved and can start pushing and elevating that work to these higher levels to have bigger impacts that will continue to ripple and benefit more people. And so I think that this just is just such a great place to start, I think for these conversations with cities, and why you might want to hear about what another city is doing and how you can get connected into the larger community as well as within your own community to advance this action.

Larry Kraft  50:39

Often questions you can get at a local level is "well does what we do here matter?" And I think it does. And then you can make it matter even more by sharing and questioning and listening and talking to others. Because what we're seeing already is you inevitably will find others that learn from you, and that you can learn from nearby you and also, you know, elsewhere around the country.

Abby Finis  51:11

One last thought is Ruth is right. We've had an extractive economy for not that long in the way that we do, you know, oil and gas and, and coal and fossil fuels haven't really been a part of our human history for that long. And throughout history, we go through these different changes and technological changes. And once there's something new, you know, we kind of grab on to that. And we, we go with that. And we absorb that transformation. And so this is, this is a moment in time, right? And so, what is on the horizon and just kind of the descriptions of what everyone was talking about, makes me believe that Alaska can rewrite its narrative, it makes me believe that the globe can rewrite its narrative. 

Abby Finis  51:57

We hope you enjoyed this episode of City Climate Corner. If you like what you're hearing, make sure to subscribe and give us a review. If you're able to, become a monthly supporter through Patreon. As always, you can find more information on this topic and resources from each episode’s guests on our web page if you have an idea for the show, send us an email at or find us on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Larry Kraft  52:20

City Climate Corner is produced by Abby Finis and me, Larry Kraft, edited by me. Music by...

Abby Finis  52:27

King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard!

Larry Kraft  52:29

Thanks for listening, and we'll see you next time.