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A road map to environmental disaster in Alaska


Table of Contents

The pristine beauty of Alaska's landscape belies a growing environmental crisis that threatens to alter the state's natural balance irrevocably. Alaska is often seen as a bellwether of the impact of climate change, with rising temperatures and melting permafrost contributing to an environmental catastrophe that could have significant implications for the rest of the world.

The Impact of Climate Change

Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing Alaska today. The state is experiencing rising temperatures at a rate twice as fast as the rest of the world. This warming trend is causing the permafrost to melt, which has a host of consequences.

The permafrost is a layer of frozen soil that covers most of Alaska. As it thaws, the soil becomes unstable, causing buildings, roads, and other infrastructure to sink or collapse. This, in turn, can lead to environmental disasters like oil spills or toxic leaks.

The Perils of Resource Extraction

Alaska has long been a hub of resource extraction, from oil and gas to mining and fishing. While these industries have brought economic benefits to the state, they have also had a significant impact on the environment.

Oil spills are one of the most significant threats to Alaska's environment. The state has a long history of oil drilling, and spills are a common occurrence. The Exxon Valdez spill in 1989, for example, released more than 11 million gallons of oil into the Prince William Sound. The spill killed countless wildlife and had long-term impacts on the ecosystem.

The Impact of Industrialization

Industrialization has also had a significant impact on Alaska's environment. The state's population has grown significantly in recent years, leading to increased urbanization and development. This development has led to deforestation, loss of wetlands, and habitat destruction.

Urbanization has also led to increased pollution, with cars and other vehicles emitting pollutants into the air. This pollution can have significant impacts on human health, as well as on the health of the environment.

The Importance of Conservation

Despite the growing environmental crisis in Alaska, there is still hope. Conservation efforts are underway, with groups working to protect the state's fragile ecosystems and wildlife.

One of the most significant conservation efforts is the establishment of protected areas, such as national parks and wildlife refuges. These areas provide critical habitat for wildlife and help to preserve Alaska's unique natural beauty.


Alaska's environmental crisis is a complex and multifaceted problem that requires urgent action. From climate change to resource extraction and industrialization, the state is facing a range of environmental threats that could have long-term consequences.

But there is hope. Conservation efforts are underway, and individuals can make a difference by reducing their carbon footprint, supporting conservation groups, and advocating for policies that prioritize environmental protection.

We must act now to protect Alaska's environment and preserve its natural beauty for future generations.

Aaron Bernstein, MD, MPH

Aaron Bernstein is the Interim Director of The Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics.

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