Climate change happening ‘right now,’ Obama says ahead of Alaska trip

29 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Climate change happening ‘right now,’ Obama says ahead of Alaska trip.

The state — currently experiencing one of its worst wildfire seasons on record — is expected to see its average temperatures rise by 6 to 12 degrees if nothing is done to halt climate change, Obama said. WASHINGTON — With melting glaciers and rising seas as his backdrop, President Barack Obama will visit Alaska next week to press for urgent global action to combat climate change, even as he carefully calibrates his message in a state heavily dependent on oil.Barack Obama has been forced to defend his decision to allow the hunt for oil in the last great wilderness of the Arctic, on the eve of an historic visit to Alaska intended to spur the fight against climate change.

The three-day tour – which will include a hike across a shrinking glacier and visits to coastal communities buffeted by sea-level rise and erosion – was intended to showcase the real-time effects of climate change. The state’s political leaders are anxious about whether Obama’s trip will coincide with new executive actions or regulations that could further strain an economy already rocked by slumping oil prices. Obama, who is seeking to rally world leaders to commit to lowering greenhouse gas emissions ahead of a global climate change conference in Paris in December, said that “rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community” in Alaska. Obama’s lengthy journey — some 3,500 miles (5,600 kilometers) — aims to bring “awareness of the profound nature of change and the urgency that goes with that,” said Rafe Pomerance, member of the Polar Research Board at the National Academy of Sciences. “When you look at the glaciers of Alaska and Greenland, when you look at sea ice, permafrost, spring snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere; all of it is melting and shrinking very rapidly with profound consequences in the rest of the world.” Scientists have routinely warned of those consequences, such as when permafrost, a thick subsurface layer of frozen soil that holds billions of tonnes of greenhouse gases, continues to melt. “The Arctic matters hugely for its own sake, particularly for the four million people who live in the Arctic, but it matters to everyone because of its impacts beyond the Arctic.” Obama recently unveiled a plan for drastic cuts to carbon emissions from power plants, expected to cause the closure of several dilapidated coal plants.

The unambiguous goal of the president’s trip is to use dramatic and alarming changes to Alaska’s climate to instill fresh urgency into his global warming agenda. The president “doesn’t go to anybody’s state and stay three days and not do something,” senator Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, said at an August 6 breakfast with Bloomberg editors and reporters in Washington. “Many Alaskans have expressed anxiety and worry about further land use designations or ocean preserves that would permanently lock away resources critical to our state and local economies,” Representative Don Young, a Republican who has represented the state since 1973, said in an email.

But he will meet a tough audience in Alaska, at a time when many of his Republican foes deny that the planet is warming or that human activity is influencing the phenomenon. “As if on command from the most extreme environmentalist elements, this president and his team of DC bureaucrats believe they alone know what’s best for Alaska,” echoed Congressman Don Young. Climate change poses the same threat, right now.” The president is striking a tricky balance between environmental conservation and energy production — he has long supported expanded oil drilling off the Alaskan coast, the very fuel that has contributed to global warming. Sea ice is melting, critical permafrost is thawing and Alaska’s cherished glaciers are liquefying — powerful visuals that Obama hopes will illustrate the threat to natural wonders and livelihoods and serve as a global call to action. Environmental activists say such moves send a counterproductive message ahead of the Paris conference, a crucial meeting aimed at clinching a global accord to slow global warming. The president said in his radio address Saturday that as the United States makes a transition to renewable fuels, it will still need to rely on oil and natural gas. “As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports, and we should demand the highest safety standards in the industry – our own,” he said.

Disappearing sea ice cover forced an estimated 6,000 walruses, mainly females and their young, to come to shore on a remote barrier island off the Chukchi Sea, US government officials said on Friday. Yet Obama has also received praise for decisions like his move in late December to halt drilling in the Bristol Bay and to protect millions of acres of coastland and wilderness. “I would rather us — with all the safeguards and standards that we have — be producing our oil and gas, rather than importing it,” Obama said in May. Both the state government and its residents rely deeply on oil revenues to stay afloat, and falling oil prices have already created a serious budget deficit. The Alaska Climate Action Network, which includes groups such as Greenpeace, plans its own chilly welcome for Obama in Alaska, where it will stage protests against the president’s “deeply hypocritical” positions when he arrives in Anchorage. Brian Deese, Obama’s senior adviser, sought to strike a balance between Alaska’s economics needs and the president’s goal to eventually phase out fossil fuels. “That’s a transition that is not going to happen overnight,” Deese said.

We don’t rubber-stamp permits.” Obama will speak Monday at a conference of Arctic nations in Anchorage, visit a glacier on Tuesday and travel to two small coastal Alaskan towns on Wednesday before returning to Washington. Later in his trip, Obama will meet with residents of Alaskans who the White House says have been hurt by climate change and other environmental perils. The group says fishing equipment has harmed fragile coral and sponge habitats, and that the government should do more to protect vulnerable animals in the area. “This is the talk about town. ‘Oh my gosh, what’s he gonna do? After arriving in Anchorage on Monday afternoon, Obama plans to meet with Alaska Natives before addressing the Arctic climate resilience summit, dubbed GLACIER, which involves Arctic and non-Arctic leaders, scientists, environmental advocates and the energy industry.

Last September, he broadened the Pacific Remote Islands National Marine Monument to nearly half a million square miles, over the objections of tuna fishermen operating in the region. In an unusual presidential photo-op, Obama will travel Tuesday to Seward, on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, where the Exit Glacier is retreating in what environmentalists say is a dramatic sign of warming temperatures.

Giving the go-ahead to Shell to drill two exploratory wells in the harsh and unforgiving conditions puts the Arctic at risk of a spill, campaign groups argue. Then he’ll fly north to Kotzebue, a regional hub in the Alaska Arctic, where Obama will focus on the plight of rural, native villages where livelihoods are threatened by encroaching climate change.

More than half the state’s budget and 90 per cent of the government’s discretionary spending comes from oil revenue, which has rapidly declined thanks to a strengthening US dollar and a glut of oil. Walker said in a phone interview that he will emphasise the state’s economic challenges to Obama, and highlight opportunities to increase rather than reduce energy production.

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