The president leaves Monday for a three-day visit to the 49th state in which he will speak at a State Department climate change conference and become the first president to visit the Alaskan Arctic.
There, and in the sub-Arctic part of the state, Obama will see the damage caused by warming — “damage that has been evident to scientists for years,” says The Associated Press.
Studies show that more than 3.5 trillion tons of water have melted from Alaska’s glaciers since 1959, when Alaska became a state — enough to fill more than 1 billion Olympic-sized pools.
Permafrost is thawing more often. And as the ground oozes, roads, pipelines and houses’ foundations tilt and shift, sometimes enough to cause homes to be abandoned.
So far this year, more than 5.1 million acres in the state — an area the size of Connecticut and Rhode Island combined — have burned in wildfires. In the first 10 years of statehood, Alaska averaged barely a quarter million acres of wildfires a year. The last 10 years have averaged 1.2 million acres of wildfires.
In the Arctic, sea ice in the summer has shrunk about a third over three decades.
By showcasing the changes, Obama hopes to raise the sense of urgency to move quickly to slow climate change in the United States and overseas.
In a “major show of solidarity” with Alaska Natives, Obama announced on the eve of his trip that his administration is changing the name of North America’s tallest peak, Mount McKinley, to Denali, its traditional Athabascan name.
Environmental groups said in the lead-up to Obama’s trip that he hasn't done enough to protect Alaska and the climate. They took particular offense at his administration's move just a few weeks ago to give Royal Dutch Shell a final permit for expanded drilling off Alaska's northwest coast.
"I share people's concerns about offshore drilling. I remember the BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico all too well,” Obama said in his weekly address on Saturday. Yet he said the economy still has to rely on oil and gas while it transitions to cleaner renewable fuels, and said his administration is ensuring that risks are minimized.