Alaska has one of the harshest climates in the world, and more than once, it is called the ground zero for climate change (How is the climate, 2020).
The warming in Alaska is twice as fast as the rest of the country. Its average annual temperature has increased by 3 degrees Fahrenheit and 6 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter. This temperature increases have seen rapid snowmelt and glacier retreat and uneven sinking of the ground due to permafrost thaw, which is estimated to add up to $6 billion to the cost of buildings, pipelines, roads, and other infrastructure in the next 20 years (How will Climate, n.d.).
Anchorage Daily News reports that Alaska has one of the most resilient infrastructures as it is built to withstand challenges – below zero temperatures, the harshest conditions, and earthquakes. With climate change exacerbating risks, the building and design of infrastructure also need to change.
According to the article, resilient infrastructure goes beyond strong houses and less dependence on fossil fuels. It involves rethinking how we build infrastructure which can create job opportunities as people are given the training to build differently. It also takes a holistic approach by integrating traditional indigenous knowledge with western knowledge and technology.
It mentions three organizations that support resilient infrastructures in Alaska:
“The Denali Commission, as an independent federal agency aimed at providing critical utilities, infrastructure, and economic support across the state, particularly in rural areas, is supporting communities especially vulnerable to environmental change. The Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC), now part of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), works to advance the development of climate-appropriate shelter, especially in Arctic environments. Pt Capital, an Alaskan investment firm, has supported remote housing endeavors, specifically on the North Slope.”
Although applying various approaches, these organizations recognize that resilient infrastructure is usually more energy-efficient and sustainable.
The Infrastructure Investment Jobs Act (IIJA), the bipartisan infrastructure bill, is vital to Alaska’s infrastructure as it faces an increased risk of erosion, permafrost degradation, and flooding.
The goal of a more holistic approach to infrastructure and the issue of climate change and energy are included in the bipartisan bill. The IIJA provides $550 billion of new annual federal spending for over five years to upgrade critical infrastructures such as roads and bridges and battery process and manufacturing, assistance for tribe’s climate adaption, and renewable energy projects in all states subject to competitive grants.
With the help of organizations, the state of Alaska exemplifies what a resilient and sustainable infrastructure looks like. The effects of climate change in infrastructure add to the many challenges that infrastructure owners and managers face.
Implementing asset management planning can also provide a more efficient and cost-effective way to manage infrastructure assets.
Asset managers can help identify and manage climate risks to help prioritize the allocation of funds – where it is most needed and produce the most benefit to society.
Climate change adaptation programs and physical works required can also be documented in agency asset management plans.
Schaeffer, J., Giessel, C. & Grunau, B. (2021 November 30). Alaska’s infrastructure innovation can lead by example and break new ground. Anchorage Daily News. Retrieved from https://www.adn.com/opinions/2021/11/29/alaskas-infrastructure-innovation-can-lead-by-example-and-break-new-ground/
How is the Climate Crisis Affecting Alaska? (2020 March 11). The Climate Reality Project. Retrieved from https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/how-climate-crisis-affecting-alaska
How Will Climate Change Affect Alaska? (n.d.). Environmental Defense Fund. Retrieved from https://www.edf.org/sites/default/files/content/regional_releases_alaska_web_version.pdf
Managing Climate Risks: An Imperative for Asset Managers. (2020). PWC. Retrieved from https://www.pwccn.com/en/asset-management/managing-climate-risks-an-imperative-for-asset-managers-aug2020.pdf