Why President Obama's trip to Alaska is a really big deal
If you must educate Americans about the rapidly unfolding effects of climate change, President Obama says you might as well do it on the face of the 2 mile long glacier, amidst the most beautiful scenery in the country.
The president took his show on the road this week, traveling to Seward, Alaska, home of the Kenai Fjords National Park. While promoting his message of conservation and environmental protection, the president got to do quite a bit of sightseeing, echoing every working person’s feelings when he said, “Beats being in the office.”
President Obama spent three hours touring Resurrection Bay with a National Park Service Ranger by his side, and then set out for a short hike on Exit Glacier, which has receded over a mile since 1815, according to The New York Times.
As the president and his entourage passed signs marking the glacier’s recession, he took the opportunity to point out the effects of climate change. “This is as good a signpost of what we’re dealing with when it comes to climate change as just about anything,” he said, according to the Times.
Overall, Obama’s trip to Alaska has been an opportunity to raise awareness about environmental issues that require immediate action.
“Villages are being damaged by powerful storm surges, which once held at bay by sea ice, are battering the barrier islands where those villages sit,” the White House wrote in a statement released today. “Alaska Native traditions that have set the rhythm of life in Alaska for thousands of years are being upended by decreasing sea-ice cover and changing seasonal patterns.”
Obama’s mission has included talking to Alaskan Native people about their views on climate change, and consulting with them about improvements to fishing conservation.
Another key goal in his travels: honoring Alaskan heritage. “Alaska is a region defined by its Native population tribes that make up a large portion of the state’s population and have been here for thousands of years,” Obama wrote on the website, Medium. “People who, through their sheer ingenuity, found a way to wrangle the elements and stake out lives for themselves.”
On Monday, President Obama made history when he officially changed the name of Mount McKinley to Denali to reflect its Native American origins. This ended a century-long controversy over the country’s highest peak.
At this point in his presidency, Obama is probably thinking, at least a little, about his legacy. So when an amazing travel opportunity like the one to Alaska intersects with an opportunity to promote environmental conservation, it’s a win-win for everybody. Still, it’s worth noting that he’s recently been criticized for approving arctic drilling, which has hazardous effects on the environment—so this trip comes at an interesting moment.
“I’ve come here today as the leader of the world’s largest economy and its second largest emitter,” Obama acknowledged, “to say that the United States recognizes our role in creating this problem, and we embrace our responsibility to help solve it.”
For more on Obama’s trip, check out the White House’s site devoted to chronicling the president’s Alaskan journey.
(Image via Pete Souza/Instagram)