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Obama Visits Arctic Community


Obama Hones Climate Change Message With Alaskan Arctic Visit
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Related video report by Aru Pande.

President Barack Obama Wednesday became the first sitting president to cross the U.S. Arctic Circle, as he wrapped up a trip to Alaska aimed at highlighting the effects of climate change.

During his three-day tour of the far northwest state, Obama has repeatedly said the U.S. - the world's second biggest emitter of carbon pollution - is not doing enough to protect the environment.

"I've been trying to make the rest of the country more aware of the changing climate, but you're already living it," Obama told a crowd in Kotzebue, a small and remote Arctic town battling coastal erosion caused by rising seas.

Temperatures in the Arctic are rising at twice as fast as the rest of the globe, placing its residents at a unique risk of ice melting and soil erosion, Obama said.

President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after delivering remarks at Kotzebue School, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015.
President Barack Obama greets members of the audience after delivering remarks at Kotzebue School, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015.

"What's happening here is America's wake up call, it should be the world's wake up call," the president said. "We are not moving fast enough. The effects can be irreversible if we do not act."

Earlier, the U.S. leader met tribal leaders and fishermen in Dillingham, home to the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery. He learned how to catch salmon in traditional nets and joined school children in Native American dress as they performed a traditional dance.

The president's highly choreographed trip across Alaska aims to build support for his environmental policies to combat climate change. Some U.S. lawmakers oppose those policies, saying the threat of climate change has been exaggerated.

In a speech at a U.S.-sponsored glacier conference in Anchorage Monday, Obama called climate change the defining threat of this century, saying entire cities could eventually be submerged by water if the world does not act to cut emissions.

On Tuesday, the president used the backdrop of a rapidly melting Alaskan glacier to highlight the effects of climate change.

"This is as good a sign post of what we are dealing with, when it comes to climate change, than anything," Obama said, standing in front of the Exit Glacier, which has receded two kilometers over the last two centuries.

The president's visit also included a scenic boat tour in Resurrection Bay in Alaska's Kenai Peninsula and the filming of a segment with reality television host and survivalist Bear Grylls.

President Obama is trying to raise support his plans to make U.S. power plants cut carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels, while boosting the amount of power they generate using renewable resources.

Scientists have warned that letting global temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels will bring extreme weather and rising seas that would affect populations all over the world.

Obama also used the trip to pressure U.S. lawmakers to speed up the construction of a new heavy icebreaker ship for the U.S. Coast Guard, to help meet security needs in the Arctic.

The heavy icebreakers are costly, with a $1 billion price tag; but, the United States is down to just two of them, falling far behind Russia, which has 40.