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‘We’re Not Moving Fast Enough’: Obama Urgently Calls for Action on Climate Change

Tim Ellis/KUAC

President Obama says time is running short to limit the impact of climate change, and that it’s going to take a unified, global effort to make that happen. He delivered his urgent appeal in a speech at an international climate conference in Anchorage.

President Obama came to the most oil-dependent state in the nation to declare that the world must transition away from fossil fuels. The president says he also came to Alaska because the Arctic is the world’s most climate change-impacted region.

“Arctic temperatures are rising about twice as fast as the global average,” he said. “Over the past 60 years, Alaska has warmed about twice as fast as the rest of the United States. Last year was the Alaska’s warmest year on record, just as it was for the rest of the world.”

Obama called attention to the damage all that warming has inflicted on Alaskans, especially Native peoples and others who derive subsistence or livelihood from the land or sea.

Credit Bill Roth/Alaska Dispatch News
Obama’s speech to foreign ministers of 20 nations and his three-day trip around Alaska are intended to draw attention to climate change in the run-up to a major United Nations conference on the issue to be held in December in Paris.

“Warmer, more acidic oceans and migrations of entire species threatens the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and local economies dependent on fishing and tourism,” he said.

He talked about the growing size and intensity of wildfires that’ve incinerated more than 5 million acres in the state this summer, the second-biggest fire season on record.

“Alaska’s fire season is now more than a month longer than it was in 1950,” he said. “At one point this summer, more than 300 wildfires were burning at once.”

The president painted a grim picture of climate-change impact on the Arctic with mind-boggling figures like the 300 million acres of boreal forest that burn every summer now throughout the Arctic. Or the 75 billion tons of ice Alaska’s glaciers are losing annually. Or the 40 percent reduction in Arctic Ocean summer sea ice over the past 40 years.

“The point is climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here, it is happening now.”

Obama told the packed room of foreign ministers from 20 nations and hundreds of others packed into the Denai’na Civic and Convention Center that the United States recognizes its responsibility to lead the world in responding to climate change. He says the country has increased investment in energy efficiency and so-called resiliency programs to help communities adapt to climate change. And he talked about advances in renewable-energy technologies that’ve increased efficiency and reduced cost to make them competive with fossil fuels.

“But we’re not moving fast enough,” he said. “None of the nations represented here is moving fast enough.”

The president said there’s reason for optimism. Like a recent analysis that may finally put to rest the argument that deep cuts in carbon emissions will harm the economy.

'We're making progress; we're just not making it fast enough.'

“Last year, for the first time in our history, the global economy grew and global carbon emissions stayed flat.  So we’re making progress; we’re just not making it fast enough.”

Obama says it’s possible to limit climate change impact, but it’s going to require an all-in effort by all nations.

“This is within our power. This is a solvable problem.”

The president says the world’s leaders can take a big step toward that solution by hammering out a strong agreement in December at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.