ANCHORAGE, Alaska — President Barack Obama turned Tuesday to a dramatic symptom of climate change — a melting Alaska glacier — to highlight the dangers of global warming.
As he mounts his most aggressive campaign yet on climate change, Obama planned to trek up Alaska’s famed Exit Glacier with photographers in tow, a powerful visual designed to make an impact in ways his speeches and ominous warnings have not. The president also was to board a U.S. Coast Guard vessel to tour Kenai Fjords National Park, where swaths of an immense ice field are melting at alarming rates.
Obama is counting on Alaska’s exquisite but deteriorating landscape to add urgency to his message on climate change, the focus of his three-day tour of Alaska. He opened his trip Monday night with a speech painting a doomsday scenario for the world if steps aren’t taken to cut emissions: entire nations submerged underwater, cities abandoned and refugees fleeing in droves as conflict breaks out across the globe.
“We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair,” Obama said. Alluding to the threat of rising seas, he castigated leaders who deny climate change as “increasingly alone — on their own shrinking island.”
Some 700 square miles (1,800 sq. kilometres) in the Kenai Mountains are blanketed by glacier, remnants of the Ice Age, when roughly a third of the Earth was covered with sheets of ice. One of nearly 40 glaciers springing out from Harding Icefield, Exit Glacier has been receding by 43 feet (13 metres) a year, according to the National Park Service. It has retreated about 1.25 miles (2 kilometres) over the last two centuries.
Obama’s carefully choreographed trip aims to make an impression with audiences that don’t follow the news through traditional means. To that end, Obama is scheduled to tape an episode of the NBC reality TV show “Running Wild with Bear Grylls,” and put his survival skills to the test.
The itinerary also includes a journey to the Alaska Arctic, the first by a sitting president, amid concerns that the U.S. has ceded influence to Russia in the strategic waters. The U.S. currently has two working icebreakers, compared to Russia’s 40. The White House said Tuesday it would ask Congress to speed up construction of new icebreakers, although it offered few details about the timeline or costs.
Although the trip hasn’t entailed new policy prescriptions or federal efforts to slow global warming, Obama has said the U.S. is doing its part by pledging to cut emissions of heat-trapping gases by up to 28 per cent over the next decade. Obama set that target as the U.S. commitment to a global climate treaty nations hope to finalize in December. He has urged fellow leaders to make similarly ambitious pledges.
Despite these efforts, the U.S. isn’t a shining example when it comes to greenhouse gases. Each American emits more than twice as much carbon dioxide as a Chinese and 10 times that of someone from India, Energy Department figures show. China, the U.S. and India are the top three polluters.
The U.S. has cut its carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels by about 8 per cent since 2000, and around 7 per cent since Obama took office. But some industrialized, European nations have made even steeper cuts, including Britain, Spain and Denmark.
Obama’s trip to Alaska’s majestic mountains and stirring coastlines also brings fresh attention to deep divisions in the U.S. over balancing the nation’s energy and environmental needs.
Heavily dependent on energy revenue, plunging oil prices are hitting Alaska hard. The blow is compounded by the high cost of energy in the state. Alaska leaders of all political stripes have implored Obama to open up more areas to drilling to alleviate a $3.5 billion budget deficit that has triggered steep cuts to state services that are critical for poor and rural Alaskans.