On Monday August 31, President Obama was in Alaska as part of his climate change tour.
“The point is that climate change is no longer some far-off problem,” Obama told an international meeting on Arctic issues Monday night. “It is happening here and is happening now.”
His presence in the Arctic follows a climate speech he gave in New Orleans on the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina.
The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on Earth. There are a host of adverse climate impacts from a warming arctic that include melting arctic sea ice, wildfires, storm surges, shoreline erosion, and melting permafrost releasing massive amounts of methane.
Obama warned that in the absence of bold climate action, “we will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair.” The Arctic is subject to some dangerous feedback loops including,
wildfires and climate change, algae blooms and thawing permafrost
On Tuesday September 1, the President toured Seward’s Exit Glacier, which has retreated 1.25 miles in recent years. Recent research indicates that Alaskan glaciers are melting and contributing to sea level rise
On Wednesday September 2, Obama visited Bristol Bay, where warming waters are causing coastal erosion and threatening salmon stocks.
Obama has be criticized by environmentalists for failing to protect the Arctic. The President has allowed Shell to drill in the Arctic’s Chukchi Sea, although the size of that drilling was reduced by half. He has not faced up to the unacceptable risks posed by Arctic drilling nor has he slowed the race to exploit the Arctic’s resources.
As the Arctic becomes increasingly free of ice there has been growing marine traffic. Russia represents the single greatest threat to the Arctic. They started lining up investors to exploit the Arctic years ago and they already have dozens of ice breakers operating in the region while they US has only two (although they expect to have another build by the end of the decade).
On Aug. 3, Russia filed a claim with the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf to expand its Arctic territory by more than 463,000 square miles. Russia has held military exercises in the Arctic and the country intends to have more than 50 military bases in the Arctic. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, head of Russia’s new Arctic Commission, said that the Arctic was “Russia’s Mecca.”
As the world’s sole remaining superpower and the head of the Arctic Council for the next few years the US has a special responsibility to protect the Arctic.