Obama tours glacier to highlight march of climate change

Jérôme Cartillier
Obama tours glacier to highlight march of climate change

Kenai Fjords National Park (United States) (AFP) - US President Barack Obama viewed Alaska's monumental Exit Glacier, in a bid to drive home the impact climate change is already having on America.

Obama traveled to southern Alaska's Kenai Fjords National Park, where he stood against the backdrop of the vast, but receding glacier, where posts mark the ice's retreat since 1815.

"This is as good of a signpost of what we're dealing with when it comes to climate change as just about anything," Obama said.

He pointed to a changing climate that has brought less snow and longer, hotter summers and an icy retreat has been anything but glacial.

"This place has lost about a mile and a half over the last couple hundred years. The reduction in glaciers has accelerated each and every year," Obama said.

Flora and fauna has been affected in the spectacular park, while melting glacier ice has raised sea levels.

"We want to make sure that our grandkids can see this," Obama said.

Obama is in Alaska to build support for domestic carbon reduction rules and a global pact to cap global temperature increases.

In December, representatives from around the world will gather in Paris to try to thrash out a deal to limit rises to two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels.

Obama had flown in to the base of the glacier over mountains partly covered in snow and turquoise waters.

"How's this? Beats being in the office," he said.

In an effort to take his message a broader audience, Obama on Tuesday got a "crash course in survival techniques" from insect-eating British adventurer Bear Grylls.

The footage will be used for an upcoming episode of "Running Wild With Bear Grylls."

Grylls, a former special air service trooper, boasts that he pushes celebrities like New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet "beyond their limits."

The White House has admitted that the Secret Service had vetoed some high octane suggestions from the producers.

Previous guests have been asked to eat mice, jumping out of planes and climb desert monoliths.

- 'Challenge of the century' -

On Monday, Obama warned that climate change is no longer a problem of the future, but rather a challenge for now and one that will define the next century.

Describing the "urgent and growing" threat that he said was not being addressed quickly enough, he sketched the problems already facing people living in one of America's last wilderness frontiers.

The challenge "will define the contours of this century more dramatically than any other," Obama told a conference in Anchorage.

"Human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we thought," he said, with one eye on Republicans who reject humans' role in heating the planet.

Obama also said he would speed up the building of a new icebreaker, vital to projecting US power in the increasingly contested Arctic region.

With Russia laying stake to the North Pole and running an armada of 40 ships capable of plowing through the frigid Arctic waters year-round, Obama said its ailing fleet of three icebreakers would be updated and expanded.

"Although we technically have three, operationally we have only two and only one heavy icebreaker," Obama said, noting Russia has 40.

"We're going to be seeing more traffic in the Arctic. It is necessary we be prepared."

He said the icebreakers need to become operational now, adding: "They can't wait."

The new heavy icebreaker would replace the ramshackle "Polar Sea" by 2020, two years before expected.

The rapid melting of polar ice has sent activity in the inhospitable region into overdrive -- as nations eye newly viable oil, gas deposits, mineral deposits and shipping routes like the Northwest Passage.

But there is a complex web of territorial claims with Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States all claiming a stake in portions of the Arctic.

Non-polar nations like China, which also has its own icebreaker, have also been exploring the viability of trans-Arctic shipping routes.

Members of the Senate Arctic Caucus, Angus King of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, described the move as a modest step in the right direction, stressing it would have to be backed by resources.

But the price tag is likely to be steep, with each new heavy-duty icebreaker estimated to cost around $1 billion apiece.