Monday, August 10, 2020
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Obama delivers climate change message in Alaska

President Barack Obama spoke to an audience at Kotzebue High School in Alaska yesterday, the White House website reports. His message was an urgent one about the peril of climate change.

KOTZEBUE, Alaska (Sept 2) — The president greets attendees after his speech. (Mandel Ngan / AFP)

“If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect it,” he said. “Well, climate change poses the same threat right now.”

Drilling for oil and gas has expanded in Alaska and nearby areas of the Arctic, and Alaskans have mixed feelings about that. While drilling drives the local economy, and companies and their employees bring new money into the villages, including the potential for even more from the president’s decision to allow drilling a few hundred miles north of Kotzebue in the Chukchi Sea, people do realize the drilling that brings that prosperity also causes damage.

“It’s a double-edged sword for us, because we know that the industry does help to create climate change, but we understand that it’s going to do that anyway, and if it has to happen, we want our people to benefit from that development,” the New York Times quoted Maija Lukin, the mayor of Kotzebue, as saying.

What kind of damage does climate change cause in Alaska? Local climate could increase by 6–10°F by the end of the century. That would continue to melt the permafrost, which would wash away the infrastructure and erode the shoreline; villages would sink into the water, as they already are; ice that used to be two feet thick is now thin and would continue to weaken.

The president’s visit to the part of Alaska north of the Arctic Circle marked the first time a sitting US president has ever traveled that far north. As such, there was a dose of theatricality thrown in. But Arctic Alaska was the perfect stage for a pre-Paris message on climate change, because Alaskans are vulnerable to the effects of climate change: the Arctic is getting warmer faster than any other region on Earth.

But the region also has lots of oil and gas, which has made people there highly dependent on those natural resources for their economic health. Oil prices recently took a nosedive, which had a significant negative impact on Alaskans. They strongly oppose any reduction in the amount of drilling on land there despite its impact on natural or man-made environments.

What kind of planet do you want when you grow up? Use one or two adjectives to describe the most important feature of that planet. Elaborate, and see Common Core high school writing standard W.11-12.2 for more information.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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