SPEECH: Council of Arctic Parliamentarians
It’s good to be with you. It’s really impressive as I look out the window behind me and see the Yukon River. About three days ago I was at the mouth of the Yukon River 2,000 miles—1,800 miles from here. It is a reminder to me, a very direct reminder of this very shared relationship that we have in my state of Alaska and the Yukon territory here; between my country the United States and our closest northern neighbor Canada. But it is a reminder of all those things that we share. The greeting “gunesch cheech”—that’s our Athabaskan, your Athabaskan, the shared heritage that we have with our native people; whether its Athabaskan, whether its Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian.
The connectedness that we have with the river, what we have with our traditions; our fish—that we say are our fish that come up your river to be your fish. The great events that we have that were mentioned yesterday; the great Yukon quest that begins here in Canada and ends in Alaska. The opportunities that we have shared for centuries with a shared history; as we see that evolve and unfold in today’s world, a recognition of really the shared cultures that we have so—it’s good to be here with you today as we participate in the 11th Conference of Parliamentarians.
Particularly with this session that we have today to focus on our northern economics and how we build out our resources, our resource development through capacity building and as I think about that capacity, it’s not just the infrastructure, it’s not the energy that allows us to move forward, it’s that great human capacity. So I’d like to spend a little bit of my time here this afternoon and hopefully in the questions and answers, to really focus on how we can best prepare the ground for sustainable economic development in the Arctic that really benefits the people of the region. I think we all recognize the economic and our natural resource potential cannot be realized unless we have good substantive input—input that we’ve seen in other session topics—but really, how we can focus on building our capacity that we have within the Arctic region.
I don’t think you can see the colors here on our map. What you’re looking at here is the infrastructure at play, when we think about our transportation infrastructure, within the Arctic. The blue stars that you can see are international airports; the red stars are major ports; and the smaller dots -- again are perhaps a little more difficult to see—are your smaller ports. And I think it’s natural to think of human capacity when it comes to capacity development, but really, we need to be considering the institutional aspect of it as well. Infrastructure capacity varies quite dramatically amongst our Arctic nations—if you look at the picture here, clearly in our Scandinavian countries, you see much more development in the Arctic region than we have in the North American Arctic, Greenland, and Russia. Just -- again, looking at basic transportation infrastructure-- and I think so often we have a tendency to think of our limited infrastructure as a liability; as a challenge to us. And it clearly is. It is not easy to get to the Yukon Territory. It’s not easy to get to the capitol here in Whitehorse. It was perhaps a little easier for me; I just traveled about two hours coming up from Skagway but in order for me to get to Skagway from my hometown of Anchorage, it’s perhaps about a six-hour travel. But, we have—we view this limited infrastructure as—as a challenge but I think --- I think we need to challenge ourselves to also view that as an opportunity. An opportunity to plan and build the way that local populations can utilize the infrastructure best, in a forward-thinking, in a comprehensive, and a responsible manner that benefits both those who live in the Arctic as well as the investor. And when you think about it, so much of our infrastructure -- at least in my home state of Alaska—that infrastructure came to us some sixty-plus years ago because the military needed it to be built-out so they put it where they needed it; where it was most beneficial to them and we kind of built around it. But think about those blank spaces on this map here as an opportunity for us to be thinking proactively as to how we can best utilize. We’re not having to build over initiatives of the past. You’ve got a blank slate here! So, I know that we view our limited infrastructure as a challenge, and it clearly is but—but let’s force ourselves to be thinking about it as that blank slate; we’ve got something clean to operate off of! In too many parts of our country, its overlap and overlay and its complicated; ours is complicated because of our geography. But let’s challenge ourselves on that.
Yesterday, Mitch Bloom mentioned in his presentation what is happening with the development of the fiber-optic cable that is being run through the Northwest Passage, will come through the Bering Straits, connect up to Asia, to Europe; think about the opportunities that we have to create that infrastructure a new and fresh and really build-out; build-out to the advantage of the Arctic peoples as well as the investors that are involved.
Now, from an economic perspective, I think we need to be again reminded that things that operate in an Arctic environment like we face, often times a very harsh environment, if you can make it happen in a harsh environment, you can probably make it happen just about anywhere else. So again, instead of viewing this as a liability, let’s think about the positives here. One example that we have in the state of Alaska, we have the state partnering with the Fairbanks North Star Borough, partnering with the University of Alaska, and what they’re doing is they’re looking to establish an unmanned aircraft system- a UAS system. And it’s effectively trying to develop a one-stop shop for entities to research, to develop, to construct and to test the drones—these UAS’s. So the image that you have on the screen -- it looks like an airplane crashed upside down, that’s not what it is—it is a UAS test. This was conducted just two weeks ago. The University of Alaska Fairbanks conducted flights over the Chukchi Sea, and what they were doing was they were attempting to collect data and information on whales and marine wildlife and what they were looking to do was to inform the development work that’s being considered for oil leases up in the Chukchi. We talk a lot about search and rescue and the need to have the assets, well certainly UAS can help us with that. I mentioned the data collection that is going on with the counting of the whales and the other marine wildlife. Domain awareness—something that we here at the Arctic Parliamentarian Conference have been talking about--- how do we expand domain awareness? Certainly through UAS. Aerial and underwater ice-mapping—again, an opportunity for us to utilize these systems. So what we’re looking at in Alaska is if this drone research project that will also serve to develop capacity on a number of different levels, is going to help us within the local economy to bring increased activity into the region; certainly working to attract the best practices; young minds that are eager to take on something new. It’s giving our local students a hands-on example of a very exciting and viable career opportunity. I will tell you, it is something that we’re looking at and as we try to figure out ways that we can keep our young people around, inspire them to be doing more within their communities. This is exactly one of those areas that captures their attentions.
With the high cost of energy, this is an issue that—again—in most of our communities we look at and recognize that it is ¬the limiting factor in so many parts of the Arctic where you do not have connection to an energy grid. It’s the high cost of energy; it’s the high cost of electricity in our remote Arctic regions that really hampers any economic development, but it can also be used to attract investment and attract cutting-edge technologies. So, just as we have viewed liabilities within the Arctic because of our geography, let’s not be trapped by that. Let’s be the pilot projects for some of these innovative technologies, these cutting-edge technologies. And the ultimate goal in what we’re trying to do is lower costs, but in the short-term, the high cost in these areas makes it economically feasible to utilize experimental and innovative energy technologies rather than locations with lower electric rates, and that’s something that I don’t think we tend to think about near often enough. In Alaska, in some of our communities out in the remote and rural areas, we’re facing energy costs, electricity costs of upwards of fifty, sixty cents a kilowatt hour—in some parts of the real Interior—it’s in excess of a dollar a kilowatt hour. It’s absolutely not sustainable! And so what these communities are doing is everything possible, everything within their imagination to reduce their costs and it is forcing a level of innovation, it is forcing a level of really thinking outside the box, and what that is doing is then attracting others who are kind of scratching their heads, trying to say “how do we figure out these puzzles?” Well, in many of our rural areas, we’re already doing it because of necessity.
Microgrids--I’ve been talking a lot about microgrids the past couple of days here because many parts of the Arctic—that’s what you have. You are just not connected to any kind of a grid. We have in the state of Alaska, over 200 small, permanently islanded microgrids and these range from anywhere from generating thirty kilowatts to—to as much as ten megawatts. We have, in our state, fifteen percent of the world’s microgrids that are powered by renewable energy. I’ll give you a couple examples. I was in the community of Cordova on Sunday. Cordova has small hydro, but what they have done in order to meet the demand for local fish processing in the summertime. They have used their ingenuity to figure out how to engineer waste heat recovery, they have added some biofuels technology that they have allowed to integrate. The nearest big hardware store is five hundred miles away and no road to get there, so they’re working to piece it together. The community of Kodiak, an island community, is almost one-hundred percent energy independent in the sense that they are producing all of their power needs through renewable energy sources; through hydro that they have coming down the mountain, they have three wind turbines situated above the community; they have a battery system that they have integrated, and they’re working to sort of even-out some of the highs and the lows through fly-wheel technologies. But they’re doing there is not because there’s been some—some mandate; it’s because they can’t afford to operate on their own based on the diesel generation that they have historically relied on. And I know that so many of you and your communities, that’s all we have—but it’s not all we have. It’s utilizing this human capacity we have, to piece together ways that we can be more independent. So, I look at this river behind me and I know that as you go towards the Bering Sea, you pass marine hydrokinetic project. I look at how they’re integrating it into their systems and I’m saying: these are opportunities for us. These are opportunities and we can pioneer them in the Arctic.
We’re always looking for ways to increase the domain awareness—and I mentioned this earlier, but whether its national security, search and rescue, general knowledge purposes, it’s a priority for us. In the Arctic, domain awareness is a challenge because of the vast size of the region of course with small populations and small number of population centers, limited infrastructure, limited activity and a lack of technologies that are designed to operate in icy Arctic conditions. At the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, we have a Center for Island, Maritime, and Extreme Environment Security the acronym is CIMES. It’s working on a remote power module—and that’s what you see on the screen behind me. What it does is seeking to provide an Arctic-durable, reliable, and autonomous platform for enhanced maritime domain awareness and persistent surveillance capabilities in remote Arctic environments. So CIMES, in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management established a network of four high-frequency radars on RPMs along the northwest coast of Alaska during the open water seasons—this is July through November—from 2010 to 2013. We successfully achieved continuous twenty-four hour surveillance out to sixty kilometers, and this was regardless of electromagnetic disturbances, with an overall detection rate of eighty-four percent of the time when radar detection coincides with the AIS data of the vessel. So, the information that was gained from this testing demonstrated that we can provide real-time data of the ocean surface velocity that can be used in data assimilation modeling, whether its oil-spill response planning or search and rescue applications. But again, the level of innovation we are seeing coming out of the Arctic is something that is worth knowing. We talk about the human capacity; I think we recognize that knowledge is key to the sustainable development of the Arctic. In our standing committee report, we state that it is vital that capacity development be rooted and relevant for the people living in the Arctic, that there is a link between the economic opportunities and the education system. In many native and remote Arctic communities, however, the competition for higher learning isn’t between colleges that are vying for a student, but really whether or not that individual decides to pursue additional education after high school. And part of the challenge of promoting education in the Arctic is really making it relevant to the students and their everyday life. A curriculum that is designed for a non-Arctic lifestyle is not going to keep our students engaged or interested. The focus--as much focus as we can in ensuring that there is vitality through language; through our native cultural languages; through—through the arts—just really that focus on the cultural relevance.
Now, in addition to the drone research park program, the University of Alaska has also engaged in several programs that are seeking to connect the students with their local community and environment. I have detailed some of these programs utilized in Alaska a little bit more in my report, but essentially what we are trying to do is get the kids engaged—get them hands-on, but doing it in a culturally mindful way, not only for the students but the teachers as they work to develop knowledge of the environment around them, how it impacts their communities, and really to create this interest and this fascination with the students that lead them to a desire to not only pursue a higher education but to stay in their communities-- to give back in ways that contribute to that sustainability. The program that we have up here, the Uniting Native Indigenous Traditional Education and University Science-- the UNITE US program—seeks to assist students in understanding the significance of Arctic issues that confront their communities. So, in this particular program, you take these middle school students and you challenge them to investigate these alternative energy sources, whether it’s hydrokinetic, whether its wind, solar, biomass, and then build-out this community energy plan. Other programs train not only the students but the teachers to conduct investigations in climate, hydrology, soil, land cover, bird migration, plant growing—get the kids involved in what is going on around them but also bring in the elders, bring in the other members of the community. One of the projects that I thought was particularly interesting in one of our interior communities is nothing more than a refrigerated container unit that is trying to focus the kids on food sustainability—grow your own. Well, if you’re in the midst of an Arctic environment where winter is going on for nine months, how do you “grow your own”? Well, this is a—a refrigerated unit that is powered by LED lights, a little bit of water hooked up to a wood pellet stove, and is growing lettuce all year long. So the children are growing, harvesting, eating it in their school lunches, and then selling the leftovers to the communities.
According to one report, the oil and gas industry is expected to add over 500,000 positions over the next five years, and 1.1 million over the next ten. At the same time, many of our large oil and gas companies are at risk of losing fifty to eighty percent of their retirement eligible workforce in the next five years. In Alaska alone, 7,500 hundred workers are needed between 2010 and 2020 to fil the industry’s employment gap, and the development of new fields could mean between 50,000 and 90,000 new jobs. So again, this was mentioned by Tom, what we would like to do is we would like to train our local people. We would like to have young people who want to stay in their region in their communities. So, how we are able to build-out that workforce is key to the sustainability of our communities.
And then the last of this is just this kind of a fun—fun aspect of what it is we do to build out capacity. The University of Arctic’s Mobility Program supports student exchanges amongst our Arctic Nations as a way to strengthen the region’s identities and ties, and to develop a network of partnerships. And this is important, but Arctic leaders should also consider student and teacher exchanges with non-Arctic actors as a way to expand the Arctic’s brand. So it doesn’t necessarily need to be an academic exchange, but it can work in other venues as well. And what you have here is NANA Corporation’s Nordic Goal and what they’re seeking to do is introduce cross-country skiing to rural Alaska. This is not a sport that was native to the area but it’s certainly useful for subsistence and traditional hunting practices. But every April we have NANA Corporation bringing some of the world’s best Nordic skiers to teach Alaska students from K through 12 how to ski, they are teaching them not only a great sport but also enhancing a lifestyle, and then those teachers go back to their countries, go back to their states and have additional understanding as to what it truly means to be in the Arctic.
Economic and capacity development in the Arctic can and needs to be more than just about our natural resource extraction to make it sustainable. The region’s natural resources provide a bridge to create a more diverse economy and to develop the infrastructure and personal capacity to promote that economy. Our sustainable economies in remote locations go hand-in-hand with an education and a curriculum that’s relevant to the local communities in order to maintain interest and develop and promote our local workforce.