Obama to summit Alaska's melting Exit Glacier

The president is hoping his hike will offer Americans a glimpse of the effects of climate change in real time.

Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
People protesting against Shell Oil greet US President Obama's motorcade as he arrives to deliver remarks to the GLACIER Conference at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, Alaska, on Monday. Mr. Obama set off for a three-day tour of Alaska on Monday, aiming to shine a spotlight on how the United States is being affected by warming temperatures and rising oceans.

President Obama is making history this week as the first active president to visit the Alaskan Arctic.

Seeking to use the visuals of an brilliant landscape in decline to reinforce his appeal for urgent response to climate change of climate change, Mr. Obama plans to hike a melting glacier Tuesday.

The president is scheduled to fly by helicopter to the city of Seward, where he plans to hike the famed Exit Glacier in the Kenai Mountains.

The Kenai Mountains, covered in glacier ice left over from the Ice Age, is home to the beautiful Harding Icefield; at least, it is for now. Exit Glacier, one of almost forty glaciers springing from Harding Icefield, is rapidly liquefying. According to the National Park Service, the glacier has been melting at a rate of 43 feet per year with no signs of slowing.

Obama is letting the liquefying glacier do most of the talking. His goal for the trip is clear: to bring light to the threat of climate change.

Obama opened his three day visit to Alaska with a speech in which he declared, “We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair” unless we make sweeping cuts to greenhouse gases.

Obama has previously set policy to reduce harmful emissions by up to 28 percent over the next decade. Rather than establish any new plans during his Alaskan visit, he hopes to refocus attention on his ambitious policy and inspire other nations to adopt similar standards.

While the environmentally motivated Alaskan tour is brining attention to climate change, it is also bringing attention to Obama’s own complicated environmental record.

Weeks before his visit to Alaska, the president approved expanded drilling by Royal Dutch Shell. They are seeking to expand drilling operations off of Alaska’s northwest coast and while the bankrupt state of Alaska is thankful for nearly any increase in drilling (a major revenue source), environmentalists are not as happy.

“The timing of President Obama’s trip to Alaska and the Arctic could not be more ironic,” Michael Brune, executive director of environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club, told the Associated Press.

The president argues that some oil, gas, and coal development is necessary for the United States as it makes a long-term shift to renewable fuels. However, the explanation has not satisfied environmentalists.

Obama’s energy and environmental record might mute his otherwise loud call for action in the face of irrevocable climate change.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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