By Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin,
ANCHORAGE — As stage sets go, Alaska is a spectacular one: craggy mountain ranges, picturesque coastlines and iconic glaciers. President Obama arrived here Monday to use that backdrop for his message that climate change is not just a thing of the future, but something well underway in the nation’s largest state.
But despite the geological props, Alaska may not be the perfect setting for Obama’s message. The state also perfectly reflects the cacophony of disputes over rival claims to international sea borders, how best to tap the Arctic’s resources and how to handle growing traffic along northern shipping routes. Those huge financial and economic stakes complicate the president’s arguments about the urgency of combating climate change.
Obama will try to focus on the climate, not conflict, but the reality has more often been a scramble for the Arctic’s rich reserves of oil, natural gas and coveted minerals. Even Alaska’s own politicians and Native American corporations want to be free to develop more of the state’s resources.
There has been a confluence of climate-related events in Alaska recently: more frequent and massive wildfires, bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, swift shoreline erosion and melting permafrost.
White House senior adviser Brian Deese said that Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the world over the past 60 years and that “the issue of climate change is not an issue of the future tense in Alaska.”
Rising temperatures, melting permafrost and wildfires could create a dangerous feedback loop, experts say. Paul Bledsoe, an energy consultant and onetime climate staff member under President Bill Clinton, said Alaska provides Obama an opportunity to argue that “this is a canary-in-the-coal-mine moment.”
On Tuesday, Obama will tour Seward’s Exit Glacier, which has retreated 1.25 miles in recent years. He will spend time hiking the glacier with Bear Grylls for the British adventurer’s “Running Wild” television series, although some things Grylls suggested were rejected by the Secret Service, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
On Wednesday, Obama will visit Bristol Bay, a major sockeye-salmon source whose waters are warming, and the Arctic town of Kotzebue, which has experienced serious coastal erosion and retreating sea ice. His stop in Kotzebue will make him the first sitting …Read More