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Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

  • VOA News

FILE - In this June 7, 2015 file photo, smoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska.

FILE - In this June 7, 2015 file photo, smoke rises from the Bogus Creek Fire, one of two fires burning in the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge in southwest Alaska.

U.S. President Barack Obama says Alaskans — residents of the vast and remote northwestern state that lies partially in the Arctic Circle — are already feeling the effects of climate change, as he prepares for a three-day visit to the state starting Monday.

Obama said in his weekly address Saturday that Alaskans are experiencing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more frequent and extensive wildfires, deteriorating glaciers, and some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world.

Obama said that if Americans do nothing about climate change, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees Fahrenheit (3.3 and 6.7 Celsius) by the end of the century, affecting many industries.

WATCH: President Obama weekly address

Anchorage climate change conference

The president is scheduled Monday to attend a climate change conference in the city of Anchorage, attended by representatives from other Arctic nations and Alaskans concerned about the way climate change affects their state, which is heavily dependent on the oil and fishing industries.

The Alaska conference comes three months ahead of a United Nations conference on climate change in Paris.

Obama has been both praised and criticized for his actions concerning climate change in Alaska. Last week he approved oil drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea, heartening those who support Alaska's drilling industry, but irritating environmentalists who say drilling in Alaska damages the environment and extends U.S. dependence on fossil fuels.

Protecting the Alaskan coast

Late last year Obama moved to protect millions of hectares of Alaskan coast land and wilderness, and put a stop to drilling in Alaska's Bristol Bay. Critics on both sides have called him a hypocrite for putting seemingly contradictory policies into place.

But the president said Saturday that as long as the United States relies on fossil fuels, it should use domestically produced resources rather than foreign imports. And he said he shares environmentalists' concerns about offshore drilling and its potential hazards, such as oil spills. He said his administration is working to make sure U.S. oil exploration is done by the highest standards possible.

Obama also said he looks forward to meeting with Alaskans in the coming days to talk about how the United States can make itself the "global leader on climate change." He said he wants to lead the world to meet the threat of climate change "before it's too late."

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