Obama Lands in Alaska; Says Time is Now to Act on Climate

Air Force 1 landed at Joint base Elmendorf-Richardson yesterday and President Barack Obama’s motorcade sped downtown, where made a speech at the Dena’ina Center about climate change. He struck a somber note in urging global leaders to get serious about reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Obama said Alaska’s fire season has grown by more than month since 1950, and thawing permafrost threatens the home communities of 100,000 Alaskans. He called the Arctic the leading edge of climate change, and said if global leaders don’t act to curb carbon emissions, devastation will strike worldwide.

“We will condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair,” he said. “Submerged countries. Abandonned cities. Fields that no longer grow. Indigenous people who can’t carry out traditions that stretch back millenia.”

But the president says it’s not too late to avoid irreparable harm, and he says the country is already moving to cleaner energy.

Obama held a roundtable meeting with more than a dozen Native leaders for about an hour before the speech. Kawarek CEO Melanie Bahnke had the seat next to Obama. She says their main message was to include them in decisions that affect them.

“He responded to each of us in turn and we’re looking forward to partnering with the federal government … (as we are) grappling with climate change, erosion but also when we look at the opportunities that are being presented to us by increased shipping,” she said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski was at the table for that meeting, but she says the White House didn’t coordinate with her office much, and the only announcement they notified her of in advance was the Denali name change.

“It has been difficult to make sure that Alaskan voices are heard, and that the president will be able to see a view of Alaska that’s real and genuine. I think there’s some frustration,” she said.

The president’s Alaska trip began with an afternoon touchdown. Gov. Bill Walker came down the stairs from the aircraft with Obama. Walker flew to Washington, D.C. Sunday so he could take Air Force 1 back. At the Hotel Captain Cook, after riding in the motorcade from the military base, Walker said he’s not sure how much time he got with Obama to discuss Alaska issues, but says his face time included a presidential tour of the 747, cockpit to tail.

“So that was a big tour, then we had a couple times we sat down (for) visits,” Walker said. “So I don’t know, an hour and half, something like, that would be my guess . Then the ride over here from JBER. So it was really good. It was very meaningful.”

In the evening, the president’s motorcade went to south Anchorage, where Obama had dinner at the home of Alaska Dispatch News Owner Alice Rogoff.

APRN reporter Zachariah Hughes contributed to this story.


Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her atlruskin@alaskapublic.org. Read more about Lizhere.

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