President Obama Breaks the Ice on Climate Change with Alaska Visit

Annie Trainer '18, Staff Writer

At the beginning of this month, President Barack Obama made history when he became the first president to travel above the Arctic Circle. For three days, the president traveled around Alaska, meeting natives and addressing the issue of climate change. “I’m going because Alaskans are on the front lines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century, climate change,” said the President through the White House’s website.

Obama’s first order of business while visiting Alaska was the changing the name  of Mount McKinley to Denali. At 20,310 feet high, Denali was officially named after William McKinley, the twenty-fifth president of the United States. However, the mountain was originally called Denali, which means “the high one” by the native Athabaskan people. Renaming the mountain will serve as a recognition of native Alaskan heritage.

The president also attended the GLACIER (Global Leadership in the Arctic Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience) conference in Anchorage. Many high-ranking officials from both nations in the Arctic and nations with strong interests in the Arctic were present at the conference. The EU announced that 200 million Euros will be allocated over the next five years to Arctic research, and participants discussed many other issues, such as coastal erosion and flooding in the Arctic.

The third matter that Obama addressed was visiting Alaskan natives. On his trip, Obama visited Dillingham, a small coastal city on Nushagak Bay. This city is part of a region that provides 40% of the United States wild-caught seafood, which helps to support a two billion dollar industry. Due to climate change, many of these coastal cities are disappearing into the sea. Residents of the small village of Kivalina have voted to relocate as it sinks into the water. Obama spoke to one resident who said that the frozen tundra of his childhood has become scrub forests. On his quest to see the effects of climate change firsthand, Obama hiked a glacier, which has receded more than a mile over the past 200 years. These melting glaciers are threatening coastal communities and tourism, and they are adding water to rising seas. If nothing is done about climate change, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise six to twelve degrees by the end of the century. However, Obama said, “I’m looking forward to talking to Alaskans about how we can work together to make America the global leader on climate change around the globe… I want you to think about the fact that this is the only planet that we’ve got — and we’ve got to do everything we can to protect it.”