President Obama is making a historic trip to the Last Frontier as the first POTUS to visit our 49th state (before he left, he commissioned Mount McKinley to be officially renamed Denali to honor the state’s native roots. While a highlight meet be his trek with survival poobah Bear Grylls, Obama’s primary focus on this three-day trip is on climate change, including the need for more icebreaking ships to combat retreating ice and opening up more waterways.
From the New York Times:
On the second day of a three-day trip to Alaska to highlight the challenge ofclimate change and call for a worldwide effort to address its root causes, Mr. Obama’s proposals will touch on one of its most profound effects. The retreat of Arctic sea ice has created opportunities for shipping, tourism, mineral exploration and fishing — and with it, a rush of marine traffic that is bringing new difficulties. “
Arctic ecosystems are among the most pristine and understudied in the world, meaning increased commercial activity comes with significant risks to the environment,” the White House said in a fact sheet issued in advance of an announcement by Mr. Obama in Seward, where he planned to hike toExit Glacier on Tuesday and tour Kenai Fjords National Park by boat.
“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement said.
The aging Coast Guard fleet is not keeping pace with the challenge, the administration acknowledged, noting that the service has the equivalent of just two “fully functional” heavy icebreakers at its disposal, down from seven during World War II. Russia, by contrast, has 41 of the vessels, with plans for 11 more. China unveiled a refurbished icebreaker in 2012 and is building another.