Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell on the U.S. as an Arctic nation

  • Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who says a healthy economy is vital to a healthy environment.

    State of Alaska
  • Ice patterns in the Chukchi Sea of Alaska, where Shell Oil plans to drill exploratory oil wells.

    NASA/Kathryn Hansen

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HCN Are you worried about the prospect of a spill?

TREADWELL No. Well, how should I put it? I believe the precautions have met their risks.

HCN Has your transition from the U.S Arctic Research Commission to an elected official shifted your views?

TREADWELL I find myself in the corners of state government arguing that science is our friend, not the enemy, sometimes. If you don't include science in your regulatory thinking, your development thinking, and your global view of education, you're missing the boat.

HCN What are the major issues facing Alaska due to climate change? How are you grappling with them?

TREADWELL The most important issue for Alaskans is to adapt. Adaptation means everything from moving dumps to putting up gravel or boulders and riprap to defend coastlines. In some cases, we're working to move villages.
The state government put up money this year for ocean acidification studies because we're concerned about our salmon. Salmon fishing is one of our largest employers, as well as one of our fun things to do. If acidification is going to have major effects on the food chain for salmon, as well as the ability for crab to harden their shells, that has economic as well as diet and food-security impacts.

The globe is welcome to debate what's causing it, but we've got to deal with what's happening.

HCN How do you reconcile your support for science in policy-making and recognition of climate change's adverse consequences, on the one hand, and your support for a major expansion of offshore drilling in the Arctic Ocean, on the other?

TREADWELL Oil is still the best transportation fuel. There really is no alternative likely to power the cars, trucks, planes and ships that we depend on. Nations are already drilling in the Arctic, and Americans can lead in doing it safely. We should always be looking for improved technology to limit the impacts of any energy we use.