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Three Key Things Obama Did on Historic Alaska Tour to Emphasize Urgency of Climate Change

By By Brian Lada, Meteorologist
September 08, 2015, 10:54:50 AM EDT

President Barack Obama spent three days in Alaska this week, touring the state and becoming the first president to travel to the Arctic Circle.

“I’m going because Alaskans are on the front lines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century, climate change,” the president said on the White House’s website, explaining why he was making the historic trip.

During his weekly radio address on Aug. 29, Obama added to this, saying, “If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat, right now.”

Below is a list of three things that the president did while traveling to Alaska.

1. Formalizing the Re-Naming of America’s Tallest Peak

On the eve of Obama’s voyage to Alaska, the White House announced that the country’s tallest peak will be renamed from Mount McKinley to Denali.

Denali is the highest mountain peak in North America, reaching an elevation of 20,310 feet and is located along the Alaska Range. While it may be the tallest mountain on the continent, it is still a far reach from the 29,029-foot peak of Mount Everest.


The U.S. government originally recognized the name of the mountain as Mount McKinley in 1896, named after the twenty-fifth president of the United States, William McKinley.

While the official name of the peak has been Mount McKinley for over 100 years, it has been widely referred to as Denali by Alaskans for decades.

Denali was the name originally given to the mountain by the native Athabaskan people, and means 'the high one,' or 'the great one.'

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell explained the reasoning behind the change.

“With our own sense of reverence for this place, we are officially renaming the mountain Denali in recognition of the traditions of Alaska Natives and the strong support of the people of Alaska," Jewell said.

2. Attending the GLACIER Conference in Anchorage

On his first day in Alaska, President Barack Obama spoke at the GLACIER Conference, a conference focusing on international and domestic priorities in the Arctic, addressing some of the most pressing issues facing the region.

GLACIER is an acronym, standing for “Global Leadership in the Arctic Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience.”

Foreign ministers and high-level leaders from other Arctic nations were invited to the conference, as well as countries and intergovernmental bodies with strong interests in the Arctic. Some of these countries included Canada, China, Denmark, France, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom and the European Union.

AccuWeather's Climate Change Center
Brett Anderson's Climate Change Blog
Alaska Weather Center

A press release by the U.S. Department of State highlighted some of the topics and announcements from the GLACIER conference.

One of the more notable announcements came from the European Union. The EU announced their plan to dedicate 200 million euros over the next five years to Arctic research so that the international community can better understand the profound changes occurring in the region.


There was also a session at the conference where participants discussed how climate change is threatening the existence of Arctic communities, contributing to a dramatic increase in coastal erosion and flooding in the American Arctic.

President Obama elaborated on this during his speech at the end of the conference, saying, “I had a chance to meet with some Native peoples before I came in here, and they described for me villages that are slipping into the sea.”

“It’s urgent for them today,” he continued. “But that is the future for all of us if we don’t take care.”

3. Visiting Alaskan Communities Dealing With Climate Change

The final leg of the president’s trip was visiting Alaskan communities as well as visiting Kenai Fjords National Park.

One of the communities that he visited was the town of Kotzebue, a town of around 3,000 people located on Alaska’s west coast.

Obama told a crowd of locals in Kotzebue, "I've been trying to make the rest of the country more aware of a changing climate, but you're already living it.”

It is in this town that Obama’s motorcade passed rows of rusting shipping containers and dilapidated huts - almost all on stilts to accommodate gusts of wind and other weather-related events, according to the Associated Press.

During his flight to Kotzebue from the fishing village of Dillingham, Air Force One descended so that Obama could get a closer look at the small village of Kivalian, where residents have voted to relocate the village as it sinks into the water.

Kivalina is the same village that Jewell visited back in February to get a better understanding of how climate change affects communities.


Although Obama did not introduce any new policies during his three-day trip, he did say that the U.S. has pledged to cut carbon dioxide emissions up to 28 percent over the next 10 years.

During his stop in Kivalian, he noted that despite the progress in reducing greenhouse gases, the planet is already warming and the U.S. isn’t doing enough to stop it.

A few weeks ago, NOAA released their July 2015 global surface temperature analysis and announced that it was the warmest of any month on record going back to 1880.

July 2015 averaged 0.81 degrees Celsius (1.46 F) above the 20th century average, combining both land and ocean surface temperatures. NOAA also noted that the July global surface temperature is warming at a rate of 0.65 C (1.17 F) per century.

Have questions, comments, or a story to share? Email Brian Lada at, follow him on Twitter at @Wxlada. Follow us @breakingweather, or on Facebook and Google+.

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