President Barack Obama addressed the issue of climate change with unusual force and vigor Monday from Alaska, stating that unless the nations of the planet act more aggressively, there will be “more drought. More floods. Rising sea levels. Greater migration. More refugees. More scarcity. More conflict.”
Obama wasn’t standing on a glacier as he spoke, although it was at the GLACIER (Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience) conference, and some of the conflict he warned of may be of his own making.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when Greenpeace, the environmental group, fired off its response, charging him with hypocrisy. “It’s time for the president to stop talking about urgency and stop approving extreme fossil fuel projects like Shell’s Arctic drilling plans,” the group announced in a statement.
A few weeks ago, Obama gave final approval to Shell Oil’s drilling in the Alaskan Arctic for the first time in 20 years.
Unperturbed by the apparent contradiction, the president assailed those naysayers who denied the perils of climate change and global warming, particularly Republican politicians. Those politicians and deniers, he said, “are on their own shrinking island.”
While he chastised the governments of the world who participate in endangering the environment, he recognized that the U.S. is just as guilty. However, he said, America is making efforts to curb fossil fuel emissions and carbon pollution, cut back on coal burning and use more solar, wind and nuclear energy sources.
Obama is the first sitting president to visit the Arctic Circle, and there was an additional stir when he announced that Mt. McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, would be renamed Denali, as it is called by the indigenous people, meaning “the great one” in the native Athabaskan language.
“The name Denali has been official for use by the state of Alaska since 1975,” said Sally Jewell, secretary of the interior, “but even more importantly, the mountain has been known as Denali for generations.”
Far more significant to the Obama administration than a name change for a mountain is the mounting concerns about Russia and the control of the Arctic waters. It was recently proposed that the White House was stepping up measures to increase the number of icebreakers in the region. Currently, the U.S. has only two icebreakers in the waters, whereas Russia has 40.
To his growing legacy of Obamacare, diplomatic changes with Cuba and a nuclear deal with Iran, the president is hoping to add progress on climate change.