Shrinking glaciers, Arctic temperatures and a mix of messy energy politics await President Barack Obama as he begins his historic trip to Alaska.
Obama departs this morning for a three-day tour of the nation’s largest state, closely choreographed to call attention to the ways Obama says climate change is already damaging Alaska’s stunning scenery. By showcasing thawing permafrost, melting sea ice and eroding shorelines, Obama hopes to raise the sense of urgency to deal quickly to slow climate change in the U.S. and overseas.
His excursion north of the Arctic Circle will make Obama the first sitting president to step foot in the Alaska Arctic, home to Alaska Natives who have received less attention amid Obama’s recent efforts to improve conditions for Native Americans. In a major show of solidarity, 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.
Obama’s move to strip the mountain of its name honoring former President William McKinley, a son of Ohio, drew loud condemnations from Ohio lawmakers, including Republican Rep. Bob Gibbs, who said he planned to work with his colleagues to see what they could do to stop it.
Yet Obama was to navigate far more turbulent political waters when he arrived this afternoon in Anchorage, where his grand declarations on climate change have been met with skepticism by leaders in a state that’s heavily dependent on oil revenues that have fallen precipitously.
At the same time, environmental groups warned in the lead-up to Obama’s trip that he hadn’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.