Obama Alaska trip aims for ‘punctuation mark’ on climate legacy

31 Aug 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Breaking the Ice: Obama Seeks to Cement Climate Change Legacy.

President Barack Obama will be in Alaska this week, visiting melting glaciers and remote towns and meeting with other Arctic leaders. Obama leaves Monday for a three-day go to to the 49th state through which he’ll converse at a local weather change convention and turn into the primary president to go to the Alaska Arctic. There, and within the sub-Arctic a part of the state, he’ll see the injury brought on by warming — injury that has been evident to scientists for years.

The trip to the Alaskan Arctic — the first by a sitting president — is the culmination of an increasingly forceful climate change policy push over the past two years by the Obama administration. Greater than three.5 trillion tons of water have melted off of Alaska’s glaciers since 1959, when Alaska first turned a state, research present — sufficient to fill greater than 1 billion Olympic-sized swimming pools. The White House has honed in on climate change as a core policy priority with a domestic and international approach that has met with mixed response among both liberals and conservatives.

And that’s why President Obama chose to travel here Monday, seeking to use it as the backdrop for his urgent message that climate change is not just a thing of the future but is already well underway in America’s largest state. “Alaskans are already living with its effects,” Obama said in his radio address Saturday before listing them: “More frequent and extensive wildfires. Obama, who will speak at the closing of an international conference on the Arctic, wants to shore up public support to tackle what he calls “one of the greatest challenges we face this century.” His visit comes just months before a crucial conference in Paris — known as COP21 — in December that will aim to cap global temperature increases by two degrees Celsius (3.6 degree Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels. “What’s happening in Alaska is happening to us,” Obama said before leaving Washington. “It’s our wakeup call. The essential, coast-hugging sea ice that protects villages from storms and makes searching simpler is dwindling in summer time and is now absent annually a month longer than it was within the 1970s, different research discover. This week alone he invoked the perils of climate change during visits to the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas and New Orleans’ storm ravaged Lower Ninth Ward to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Obama has just imposed, much to the chagrin of his Republican opponents in Congress, strict standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

A study earlier this year found that Alaska’s glaciers were losing 75 billion metric tons of ice per year — meaning that although Alaska’s mountain glaciers only comprise 11 percent of the world’s total, they’re contributing 25 percent of the losses (and rising sea level) from this source. Permafrost is thawing extra typically as the bottom warms, in order the bottom oozes, roads, pipelines and homes’ foundations tilt and shift — typically sufficient to trigger houses to be deserted. It reflects all too well the cacophony of disputes over mapping international sea borders, exploiting the Arctic’s resources, and making greater use of northern shipping routes. America is the second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases behind China and has committed to a reduction of 26-28 percent of greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 compared to 2005. The president on Monday will address a conference of Arctic nations devoted to cooperation, but the reality has more often been rivalry in a scramble for the rights to the Arctic’s rich reserves of oil, natural gas and coveted minerals.

To date this yr, greater than 5.1 million acres in Alaska — an space the dimensions of Connecticut and Rhode Island mixed — have burned in wildfires. Paul Bledsoe, an energy consultant and onetime climate staffer for President Clinton, said Alaska provides Obama an opportunity to say that “this is a canary in the coal mine moment.” While here, Obama will tour Seward’s Exit Glacier, which has retreated 1.25 miles in recent years; Bristol Bay, a major sockeye salmon source whose waters are warming; and the Arctic town of Kotzebue, which has experienced serious coastal erosion and retreating sea ice. And the Alaska Oil and Gas Association called on Obama to “strike a reasonable balance” and reminded him that the oil and gas sector accounted for 110,000 jobs. His stop in Kotzebue will make him the first sitting U.S. president to visit the Arctic, home to 4 million people in the United States and other nations. Only about 737,000 people live in Alaska. “If Obama is going to be the climate change leader the world needs, he must revoke Shell’s permits to drill in the Chukchi Sea,” said Rebecca Noblin, Alaska director for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The mixed signals that Obama is sending with his energy and climate policies are truly baffling,” she added. “It’s been frustrating to watch him say eloquent, inspiring words about addressing climate change, and then to watch him betray those words with his actions.” The mountain had been named in 1896 for a future US president, William McKinley, but local authorities had worked on the change for years, restoring an Alaska Native name with deep cultural significance.

Data show that Alaska had a very early snow cover loss this year, heating up the ground earlier and helping set the stage for one of its worst wildfire seasons ever: Worsening wildfires: It seems unlikely that the 2015 wildfire season will be Alaska’s worst ever — that honor goes to 2004, when more than 6.5 million acres burned. And scientists say these issues are occurring — at the least partly and doubtless principally — due to one other factor they will measure: Alaska’s temperature.

But 2015 is in second place with well over 5 million. “What we’ve been seeing in the last two decades is an increase in the extent of area burned from year to year and a fairly substantial increase in the frequency of these very large fire years,” Scott Rupp, a professor of forestry at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, told me back in July. Alaska’s yearly common temperature has jumped three.three levels since 1959 and the winter common has spiked 5 levels since statehood, based on federal data. He choked up at the end of his remarks announcing the clean power plan. “I don’t want my grandkids not to be able to swim in Hawaii, or not to be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn’t do something about it,” he told the audience. “I don’t want millions of people’s lives disrupted and this world more dangerous because we didn’t do something about it. Many of Alaska’s Republicans and some of its Native American groups are also eager for development — especially since a combination of declining oil production and plunging oil prices has opened a gaping hole in the state’s budget, which last year relied on the petroleum industry for about two-thirds of its revenue.

Former Secretary of State and 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton broke with the administration on the decision, Tweeting, “The Arctic is a unique treasure. While they support Obama’s decision to give Shell a green light, they would like him to spend money on new ice breakers and expand ports to support new drilling and mining ventures. Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling.” And CREDO, a progressive group, released a video, using the administration’s own pictures, to demonstrate what they’ve called “climate hypocrisy” even comparing the president’s trip to Alaska to President George W. And whereas there could also be many elements concerned in glacier soften, all however about 5 of Alaska’s 25,000 glaciers are shrinking, stated College of Alaska Fairbanks glacier professional Regine Hock. The loss of permafrost can undermine Alaskan roads and infrastructure and also creates the curious phenomenon known as “drunken trees.” But the bigger issue may be climatic.

On Aug. 3, Moscow filed a massive claim with the Commission on the Limits to the Continental Shelf; if approved, it would expand Russia’s Arctic territory by over 463,000 square miles. Earlier in March, Russia held a military exercise that involved more than 45,000 troops, 15 submarines, and 41 warships and practiced for full combat readiness in the Arctic. Scientists have estimated that by the year 2100, permafrost around the world — not just in Alaska, but also in Canada, Siberia and other Arctic nations — could release some 150 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere if warming continues apace (a gigaton is a billion metric tons).

But, it’s not clear just how many countries will commit to significant cuts in carbon this December and the administration is trying to keep expectations in check. “I think that we are well positioned as a result of the progress we’ve made to get a global agreement this year, there’s a lot of work yet to be done,” Deese told NBC News, “but we have a lot of tools in place and we’re going to keep using those tools aggressively between now and then.” Coastal erosion: In his Aug. 29 radio address that previewed his Alaska trip, Obama mentioned that four Alaskan villages are “in ‘imminent danger’ and have to be relocated. Already, rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community.” The president is almost certainly referring to the tiny village of Kivalina on the shores of the Chukchi Sea, which is being increasingly battered by extreme waves that, as sea ice dwindles, are more easily generated offshore. Technically, this is not an Arctic Council session, but all the same players are here for the Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, an unwieldy name with the acronym GLACIER.

Kerry, who convened the meeting here in Anchorage with hopes of fostering cooperation, had invited foreign ministers, but Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov backed out. Geological Survey recently found that along Alaska’s north coast, an average of 1.4 meters per year of land is vanishing — and in some places rates are far higher than that. Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives, said the groups aim to “roll out the red carpet for the president’s visit in a very public and visible way.” “People in Alaska have been griping for a long time, with good reason, that the U.S. and Washington doesn’t appreciate that the U.S. is an Arctic nation,” said David Hayes, who served as the Interior Department’s deputy secretary during Obama first term and helped lead the agency’s Arctic work. “The president’s trip will spread the word that the U.S. is an Arctic nation. Walruses feed at sea but have to rest and prefer to do so atop ice floes in close vicinity to shallow shoals where they can dive and feed at the sea floor.

When they’re in a cluster and get spooked — by, say, a human noise or an animal walking by — a stampede can ensue and younger walruses can be killed. Walruses are just one animal species threatened — their current struggle is actually quite similar to that of one predator that they greatly fear, the polar bear. We can try to protect stranded wildlife, as the Fish and Wildlife Service is doing right now — and we can relocate whole villages if we’re willing to spend the money on it.

There will be more access to the Arctic, leading to more tourism and more commercial opportunities — but something profound will have been lost, too.

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