No one, including Gov. Sarah Palin, questions that Alaska's climate is changing faster than any other state's. But her skepticism about the causes and what needs to be done to address the consequences stands in sharp contrast to views of her running mate, Sen. John McCain, and put her to the right of the Bush administration and several other Republican governors.
Palin established a sub-cabinet to deal with climate change issues a year ago, but has focused on how to adapt to global warming rather than how to combat it, and she has questioned scientists' near-consensus that human activity plays a role in the rising temperatures.
She fought the administration's listing of polar bears as threatened with extinction because of shrinking sea ice. Palin sued to overturn the decision on grounds it will “have a significant adverse impact on Alaska because additional regulation of the species and its habitat … will deter activities such as commercial fisheries, oil and gas exploration and development, transportation and tourism within and off-shore of Alaska.”
McCain has regularly said humans are driving global warming and declared that his efforts to cap greenhouse gas emissions demonstrate his ability to work with Democrats. But in selecting Palin and placing her in charge of energy affairs should they win, he has a running mate who has resisted this tenet of his candidacy.
Rick Steiner, a University of Alaska marine conservation professor who pressed Palin's administration to hand over documents related to its position on the polar bear listing, said the governor has not enacted policies that would help reverse climate change even as it transforms the state's landscape.
“She has said some of the right things in the last two years, but she's done absolutely nothing,” Steiner said.
But Larry Hartig, commissioner of Alaska's Department of Environmental Conservation, said Palin worked on climate threats by lobbying the legislature to provide $13 million for remote villages facing coastal erosion.
“Unlike the rest of the country, we are experiencing the threats of warming here, now,” he said. While Palin has focused largely on adapting to the shifting climate, he said, “I wouldn't interpret that as a lack of interest in mitigation, by any means.”