The SEACC Board of Directors voted in spring 2022 to elevate SEACC’s climate work, advancing what had been a part-time organizer role within our Tongass Forest Program to its own thing — the SEACC Climate Program. This is the third fully supported program at SEACC along with the Tongass Forest Program and the Inside Passage Waters Program.
In short, our climate work has grown exponentially over the last year. We’re working as hard to address climate change in Southeast as we are to protect the Tongass and the waters of the Inside Passage.
And we’re excited to update you on it! Here’s a Q&A with Matt Jackson, now our Climate Program Manager.
Q: How did you go about creating a new program at SEACC?
A: SEACC has actually been doing climate work since day one. The single best thing anyone in Southeast could do for climate change is to advocate to keep forests standing and storing carbon. So one of my first questions was, how do I do work that is additive and complementary to our legacy forest work?
Q: And how DO you do that?
A: I think most SEACC supporters intuitively understand that protecting the Tongass is climate action. During the 60-day comment period for the Roadless Rule in winter of 2021 to 2022, our public comment tool offered four options as to why someone would support the Roadless Rule. And 60% of all action-takers chose climate — making it by far the most popular option.
But I knew from my experience as a part-time climate organizer that when SEACC sent out an alert on something that dealt with emissions — like writing a letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski to support the Inflation Reduction Act or something — we would only have a few dozen responses.
So my first goal has been to get more folks in Southeast to feel excited about tackling emissions head-on. Because we could save every tree in the Tongass, but if we don’t stop global emissions, then all life on Earth is in danger. But we also can’t be doom and gloom about it — we have to balance honesty about the risks with some optimism and actionable changes.
Q: It’s difficult to talk about climate change without feeling hopeless, but so much has been written about how hopelessness is not productive when it comes to climate.
A: When I started at SEACC in 2020, about 400 people in SEACC’s community of 8,000 subscribers had taken some kind of explicitly climate-focused action with us (not counting protecting the Tongass as climate action). One of my big goals for the first few years was getting that number up so that it would be comparable to the thousands of people who take action with us on forest or clean water issues.
So I write a monthly climate newsletter (seacc.org/climate-newsletter) that balances optimism with the very real danger and always provides some kind of action. Like, yes, we should be very stressed about climate change, but my background is actually in mental health, not energy or conservation, and I know from that field that stress can be healthy and productive IF we have a constructive outlet for it. So I always make sure I have an outlet. If anyone is feeling stressed about climate change, you can go to seacc.org/climate and there will be a small thing for you to do about climate change waiting for you. Through those kinds of methods, we’ve been able to triple the number of people taking some kind of action on climate change through SEACC in the last year.
Q: Tripling is impressive, but, SEACC is ultimately a regional organization. If every person reading this Ravencall took some kind of action, it wouldn’t add up to the scale of the climate crisis, right?
A: Well, I’d push back on that, because we are both blessed and cursed with very pivotal members of Congress. And like we say over and over, the best climate solution in Southeast is the Tongass, and we have an outsized voice on that. But the bigger answer is that we make sure our climate work is scaffolded within bigger state and national frameworks, and also that we scaffold between those bigger frameworks and our community grassroots groups. SEACC works closely with our friends at the National Wildlife Federation to shape and organize around federal policies.
We’ve also played a foundational role in forming the Alaska Climate Alliance (ACA), which includes about a dozen core organizations that work on climate together, and many dozens of individual activists and peripheral groups. The ACA has been incredibly successful so far: in January we organized a fly-in of activists from across Alaska to lobby in Juneau and we had more than 80 meetings with 43 different legislators. So we’re ensuring Southeast is a part of these bigger conversations.
Q: Where is SEACC’s climate work going next?
A: We need to continue building our base of climate supporters across Southeast. And we are going to take two of our policy priorities — the Renewable Energy Fund (REF) and the Green Bank — across the finish line this legislative session. After that, we’re looking at taking on bigger and bigger challenges. The REF and Green Bank are the lowest-hanging fruit, but we need to build off of them for bigger climate justice wins. And of course, it’s all related to our other program work, like protecting the Tongass and advocating for clean water and responsible mining. But any way you cut it, climate is going to be the issue of the century. So it’s safe to say SEACC will be working on it for a long time to come.