Obama has spent the past few days in Alaska on a mission to call attention to climate change and the very real effects it is having on Americans right now.
Obama is the first sitting president to visit Arctic Alaska. The White House has done an impressive job harnessing media (social and otherwise) to make sure America sees Alaska – both its unsurpassable beauty and its vulnerability to climate change – and hears the president’s message. Obama took over the White House Instagram while filming a show with Bear Grylls:
And wielded a selfie-stick while explaining how climate change is already damaging Alaska:
(In awe of the landscape around Bear Glacier, he described the icebergs as “as big as a Costco.”)
“Professor” Obama in these videos channels that teacher you had who was so dedicated — who cared about education, about their subject, and about the potential of their students. What will be interesting to see is if Americans respond as distracted middle schoolers or as eager grads, ready to take up the mission.
Obama’s Alaska visit also tied in his effort to address issues affecting Native communities. Coastal communities, like Kotzebue (which Obama visited), are already suffering from climate change: loss of sea ice has brought on larger storm surges that flood the village. Nearby, other communities suffer from soil erosion and loss of permafrost. Some are considering uprooting and moving further inland. During his visit, Obama announced a federal program to help villages address erosion, high energy costs, and relocation. The Energy Department will also help these communities move towards clean energy.
Obama also restored the name of North America’s highest peak to its Native name of Denali, previously known from 1917-2015 as Mt. McKinley, after the president who never visited Alaska. Ohio Republicans (McKinley was an Ohioan), including GOP-nominee-hopeful Gov. Kasich, are very displeased.
At the same time, Obama is facing serious criticism and accusations of hypocrisy for just days prior allowing Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast. His advisers are arguing this was Obama’s only legal option (the leases were sold to Shell under George Jr.). The rest of the argument goes: we’re not gonna switch to fossil fuel instantly, we’re gonna keep being super dependent for awhile, so better to have that oil and gas produced domestically. And many Alaskans – including some Natives – want the drilling, because of the jobs and economic support it brings.
Regardless, we’ve got to reduce our dependence on oil (here’s a throwback). Obama called on Americans to actually make some real changes, pointing out the contradiction of our current course: “We don’t want our lifestyles disrupted. The irony, of course, is that few things will disrupt our lives as profoundly as climate change.” He also called out climate change deniers (remember good ol’ snowball-wielding Jim?), saying they are “on their own shrinking island” (I’m digging the pun, Mr. Prez).
John Kerry skipped Obama’s gentler explanations. He compared the conflicts that will arise, when waves of migrants are displaced by climate change, to World War II, when “all of Europe was overrun by evil and civilization itself seemed to be in peril.” Considering even the tundra is on fire now, I’m not about to argue with him.
For more climate change and the White House’s plan to address it: https://www.whitehouse.gov/climate-change