Obama closes out Alaska trip, uses image to elevate climate change

President Barack Obama closed out his Alaska tour with a trip Wednesday to the tiny town of Kotzebue, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in the Arctic Circle — part of a wider effort to command attention to the issue of climate change.

Obama visited Northern community of Kotzebue on last day in northern state

President Barack Obama closed out his Alaska tour with a trip Wednesday to the tiny town of Kotzebue, becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in the Alaska Arctic — better known in Canada as the Arctic Circle — part of a wider effort to command attention to the issue of climate change.

But Obama had to walk a fine line in a state that's deeply dependent on energy revenues and wary of his efforts to keep its oil and gas in the ground.

"I've been trying to make the rest of the country more aware of a changing climate, but you're already living it," Obama told some 1,000 Alaskans in this rough-and-tumble town 26 miles (40 kilometers) north of the Arctic Circle.

Residents wave to President Barack Obama as he gets a tour of Kotzebue Shore Avenue which has dealt with erosion problems, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Kotzebue, Alaska. By visiting Kotzebue, a community with a population of just under 3,000, Obama became the first sitting president in history to travel north of the Arctic Circle. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

The three-day trip to Alaska marked Obama's most concerted campaign yet to call attention to climate change and build pressure on individuals and leaders to do something about it. Just three months from now, Obama and world leaders hope to finalize a global climate treaty in Paris that Obama hopes will be a crowning achievement for his environmental legacy.

Yet Obama's previous calls to action on climate change have fallen short of winning over many of his critics, including energy advocates who say his sweeping new emissions limits on power plants are neither necessary nor economically viable. His search for executive steps to cut emissions has reflected the political reality that Congress has no appetite for new laws to cut emissions.
President Barack Obama reacts as a fish he is holding releases milt, the sperm-containing fluid of a male fish, while visiting with Commercial and Subsistence Fisher Kim Williams on Kanakanak Beach, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Dillingham, Alaska. (Andrew Harnik/Associated Press)

On this trip, as in the past, the White House put a particular emphasis on trying to get Obama's message across to audiences who don't follow the news through traditional means.

As he crisscrossed the state, every stop was elaborately staged to showcase the president in front of picture-perfect natural wonders, as the White House sought to attract as much media attention as possible. Obama seemed willing to use himself almost as a prop, in hopes that his message on global warming might break through in ways that speeches and policy proposals don't.

In Seward, he trekked up to the famed Exit Glacier, lamenting how the expansive river of ice had receded by hundreds of feet in recent years as it melts under warmer temperatures. He boarded a boat for a three-hour tour of Resurrection Bay in the Kenai Peninsula, where the White House arranged for photographers and reporters to pull up alongside him in a separate boat, capturing stirring images of the president gazing out wistfully from the deck at serene waters and lush mountain vistas.

He stood in the rain and dawned thick gloves in Dillingham to hold up silver salmon caught in Bristol Bay, where local fishermen are locked in a dispute with developers over plans to build a copper and gold mine that environmentalists say threaten a world-renowned salmon fishery. And as he flew to the Alaska Arctic, Obama directed Air Force One to descend so he could get a closer look at Kivalina, a village of 400 on a sliver of barrier island that's sinking into the water as sea levels rise.

"Think about it," Obama said. "If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we'd do everything in our power to protect it."


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