President Barack Obama poses for a photo with native Alaskan dancers after attending their performance at Dillingham Middle School, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Dillingham, Alaska. Obama is on a historic three-day trip to Alaska aimed at showing solidarity with a state often overlooked by Washington, while using its glorious but changing landscape as an urgent call to action on climate change. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


Alaska: Day 1

The President’s Travelogue



The President is touring through Alaska this week, meeting with residents of the state and seeing the effects of climate change on the ground. He’s sharing what he sees along the way. Read his entry from yesterday below, and follow along with the trip here.

Yesterday I touched down in Alaska for a three-day tour – a trip I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. Not only because Alaska is one of the most beautiful places in a country that’s full of beautiful places – but because I’ll meet with everyday Alaskans about what’s going on in their lives, and I expect to learn a lot.

Watch the President's travelogue.


Alaska is a region defined by its Native population tribes that make up a large portion of the state’s population and have been here for thousands of years. People who, through their sheer ingenuity, found a way to wrangle the elements and stake out lives for themselves.

On the flight in, I had a great view of one of Alaska’s most beautiful sights – Denali.

It’s a new and ancient name all at once. In fact, just today, we renamed Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, by restoring its native name: Denali, which means “the high one.”

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Alaskans are already living with the effects of climate change.

More frequent and extensive wildfires. Bigger storm surges as sea ice melts faster. Some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world – in some places, more than three feet a year. Alaska’s glaciers are melting faster, too – threatening coastal communities, tourism and adding to rising seas.

Climate change is already affecting the salmon stock that generations of Natives have relied on as an integral part of their lives. So my Administration is taking new action to make sure Alaska Natives have direct input into the management of Chinook salmon stocks. They’ve taken care of the salmon population for centuries and there’s no reason they shouldn’t now.

If we do nothing, Alaskan temperatures are projected to rise between six and twelve degrees by the end of the century – changing all sorts of industries forever. This is all real. This is happening to our fellow Americans right now.

I’m looking forward to talking to Alaskans about how we can work together to make America the global leader on climate change around the globe.

And I’ll be sharing my experiences with you along the way because I want to make sure you see what I’m seeing.

And when you do, I want you to think about the fact that this is the only planet that we’ve got – and we’ve got to do everything we can to protect it.

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President Barack Obama

Alaska: Day 2 ‏


Hi, everyone — checking in on day two. Right off the bat, I’ll note that I’ve got to come back here once I’m done being President.

You just can’t see Alaska in three days.

I spent the day hiking through Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park — where the mountains collide with the ocean and fields of ice. When the team handed over the camera, I did my best to do this place justice:

Watch the President's travelogue.


Visitors from around the world come here to see its Harding Icefield — one of the largest ice fields in the United States — covering hundreds of square miles. As the climate warms, glaciers are shrinking more and more rapidly — and throughout the park, there are signs marking where the glacier line used to be.

This is as good of a signpost as any when it comes to the impacts of climate change.

Markers throughout Exit Glacier show how much it's receded over time.

I also had the chance to tour the area by boat and experience the beauty and wildlife of Resurrection Bay. It was spectacular to see the horizon of ice and snow, but it’s melting. And if we don’t act, this simply won’t be here for future generations to enjoy.

Resurrection Bay


Glaciers in Alaska, and the greater Arctic, are shrinking and it’s changing the way Alaskans live. And considering the Arctic’s unique role in influencing the global climate, it will accelerate changes to the way that we all live. Since 1979, the summer sea ice in the Arctic has decreased by more than 40{4d24daa5a359aa22e51c71c531e935ff229d31c7c5eb0da4885e362fa152ead6}, a decrease that has dramatically accelerated over the past two decades.

One new study estimates that Alaska’s glaciers alone lose about 75 gigatons — that’s 75 billion tons — of ice each year. What does a gigaton look like? To put that in perspective, one scientist described a gigaton of ice as a block the size of the National Mall in Washington — from Congress all the way to the Lincoln Memorial, four times as tall as the Washington Monument. Now imagine 75 of those ice blocks. That’s what Alaska’s glaciers alone lose…each year.

And the pace of melting is only getting faster.

It’s now twice what it was between 1950 and 2000 — twice as fast as it was just a little over a decade ago. And it’s one of the reasons why sea levels rose by about eight inches over the last century, and why they’re projected to rise another one to four feet this century.

If we do nothing, temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise between six and 12 degrees by the end of the century, triggering more melting, more fires, more thawing of the permafrost, a negative feedback loop, a cycle — warming leading to more warming — that we do not want to be a part of.

The fact is that climate is changing faster than our efforts to address it. That must change — and we’re not acting fast enough.

We need to make sure our grandkids can see this.


Watch the President's travelogue.

President Barack Obama

Alaska: Day 3 ‏


On the final day of my trip to Alaska, I understand that I became the first president to travel above the Arctic Circle.

Watch the President's travelogue.


I’m proud and happy I got to do it – because some pretty extraordinary people live up there.

I visited Dillingham – a small, vibrant coastal city that sits on Nushagak Bay, at the heart of the Bristol Bay salmon-fishing district. I had the opportunity to stand on a beach and watch subsistence fisherman pull their catches up out of the water. If you’ve eaten wild salmon, there’s a good chance it came from here — and having sampled some pretty outstanding salmon jerky, I can attest that it’s delicious.

It was fascinating to see fishing skill that has been built up over hundreds of years at work — and a reminder that the beautiful waters of this region have come to house a massive economic engine. The region provides 40 percent of America’s wild-caught seafood, and helps support a $2 billion commercial fishing industry whose jobs extend beyond Alaska’s borders. That’s why we took action last December to shut off oil and gas exploration in this area indefinitely — and why I’ll continue to support efforts to protect this community as long as I’m President.

I was proud to take action last year to protect Bristol Bay and honored to meet folks today who depend on it.


I was proud to take action last year to protect Bristol Bay and honored to meet folks today who depend on it. And don’t miss the salmon jerky if you come visit.

At Dillingham Middle School, I got to watch (and dance with) a group of young people performing a traditional Yup’ik dance — a cultural tradition which spans millennia. And I rode with Robin, a lifelong Dillingham resident, who described to me how the frozen tundra of his youth has transformed into scrub forest in just a few decades as a result of a warming climate.

Yup'ik Dance


From there, it was on to Kotzebue — a town of about 3,000 26 miles above the Arctic Circle. The town’s main roadways, the community’s blood line, runs right above the Kotzebue Sound, making it very vulnerable to coastal erosion and the intense arctic storms that can raise the water levels much higher than normal high tides. After speaking to folks at the local high school, I got a chance to take a look at the Kotzebue Shore Avenue Project — made of thousands of feet of roadway, sheet pile, and armor stone — which has protected the roadway and was paid for, in part, with federal transportation funds. It’s a reminder of exactly why we fight so hard for infrastructure spending. It’s for communities like these.

From there it was back to Anchorage, and we’ll be departing for the mainland in the next few hours.

It’s hard to believe this trip is already coming to a close. Over the course of the past three days, from the decks of Coast Guard cutters and the edges of ice fields, I’ve had the opportunity to see some wild and beautiful things in Alaska — and I’ve enjoyed sharing them with the rest of the country.

But a very serious reality lies within those breathtaking sights: And that’s the fact that this state’s climate is changing before our eyes.

A couple of days ago, I stood on rock where, just ten years ago, there was a glacier. Yesterday, I flew over Kivalina Island, an Arctic town that’s already losing land to the sea from erosion and further threatened by sea-level rise. I’ve seen shores that have been left battered by storm surges that used to be contained by ice. And now, that ice is gone.

Kivalina Island


This is Kivalina Island, an Arctic town that’s already receding into the ocean because of rising sea levels. For many Alaskans, it’s no longer a question of if they have to relocate – but when. There aren’t many other places in America that have to deal with questions of relocation right now. But there will be. What’s happening here is America’s wake-up call.

When it comes to climate change, I believe there’s such a thing as being too late. And that moment is almost here.

The Alaskans I met with these past three days know that better than anybody.

And so as I close out this travelogue, it’s my hope that decades and decades from now, when this generation has long since left the planet, we will have acted decisively. We will have left those generations with a planet they can continue to thrive on.

We will have lived up to our own words — that our best days are still ahead.

President Barack Obama


Behind The Lens: A Look at President Obama’s Trip to Alaska ‏

Pete Souza, The White House


The White House
Behind The Lens: Photographing Alaska (For Real This Time)A few months ago, I posted a Behind the Lens gallery on photographing the President in all 50 states. And while there was a photograph from Alaska in that gallery, it was kind of lame — just a shot from one of our many brief refueling stops in Alaska, traveling to or from Asia.

But this week, the President really had a chance to visit Alaska.

And so did I, along with my colleague Chuck Kennedy. The trip was intended to highlight the important issue of climate change, which it certainly did. And for me, it was a chance to photograph the President in some amazing scenic settings in four different cities and towns.

I hope you enjoy this gallery.

You should also check out some of the Instagrams that I posted during the trip — and follow along @petesouza to see my day-to-day shots of the President and life at the White House.

Speaking of which: I had a new competitor on Instagram this week — that being my boss. The President himself posted some Instagrams of his own on the @WhiteHouse account.

Until next time!

Pete Souza
Chief Official White House Photographer

Check out a few highlights below, and view the full gallery here.

Mount Denali from Air Force One.

Denali seen from Air Force One over Alaska. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Bear Glacier

Seeing the effects of climate change on Bear Glacier. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

Posing with their catch.

Posing with their catch. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

See all the photos.


Obama first US president to visit Arctic, offers aid for climate-stricken Alaska coastal villages

By on September 2, 2015 6:59 PM

Barack Obama became the first U.S. president to cross the Arctic Circle on Wednesday, visiting Kotzebue, Alaska, and focusing on native coastal villages hit hard by eroding shorelines, loss of protective sea life and other consequences of climate change.

The worst-hit villages, in northwest Alaska, sit along shores of the Chukchi Sea, where the Obama administration has permitted Shell Oil to resume drilling despite protests by major environmental groups.

The president offered limited aid, such as a coordinator for “climate resilience” in Alaska, $17 million for rural water systems, $4 million for development of sustainable energy systems, and $1.38 million for tribal youth internships related to climate change.

But it would cost along the lines of $100 million to relocate the battered coastal village of Kivalina, north of Kotzebue.

Federal money is not flowing to Alaska as it did when powerful, longtime (1968-2009) Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens sat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, directing millions of federal dollars to state projects while complaining about federal influence over his state.

“Alaska native traditions that have set the rhythms of life in Alaska for thousands of years are being upended by decreasing sea-ice cover and changing seasonal patterns. Permafrost is melting, opening up sinkholes and causing damage to homes and infrastructure,” the White House said in a statement.

Obama has spent three days in Alaska, a visit directed at raising consciousness about global warming.  He has found impacts in a state that is warming faster — with more direct consequences — than any other place in America.

Obama walked on the rapidly receding Exit Glacier near Seward and took a boat tour of glaciers in Kenai Fjords National Park.  He viewed a sea wall built in Kotzebue to fend off storm surges.  He visited with fishing industry employees in Dillingham, on Bristol Bay, pledging to defend what is the world’s greatest single salmon fishery, valued at half-billion-dollars each year.

President Barack Obama greets guests as he arrives at Ralph Wien Memorial Airport, Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2015, in Kotzebue, Alaska. Obama is on a historic three-day trip to Alaska aimed at showing solidarity with a state often overlooked by Washington, while using its glorious but changing landscape as an urgent call to action on climate change. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)


“About 40 percent of the wild-caught seafood in America is caught right here on Bristol Bay,” said Obama.  “And it represents one of the most important natural resources that the United States has.  This is one of the reasons why we have shut off oil and gas exploration in this region.  It is too fragile and too important for us to be able to endanger it in any sort of way.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has delivered scathing evaluations of a giant, proposed open-pit copper and gold mine — the Pebble Mine — for location adjacent to the headwaters of two of Bristol Bay’s most productive salmon streams.

The EPA’s studies have brought yelps of outrage from such mining industry strumpets as U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, but have been applauded by commercial and sport fishery interests, and by the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. Two major international mining companies have pulled out of the Pebble project.

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced new online climate data resources to help Arctic communities plan for, adapt to and manage climate change.  The new resources include more than 250 Arctic-related data sets and more than 40 maps.

“By sharing climate data among nations, we are providing tools that may be useful in increasing resilience measures across national boundaries in the Arctic,” said Jewell.

But Kevin Washburn, Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs, described the sweeping impacts of climate change on the high Arctic:

“Rising temperatures, thawing permafrost, melting glaciers and sea ice are having significant impacts on critical infrastructure and traditional livelihoods for tribes in Alaska and across Indian country.  That means climate change not only affects tribal livelihood, but it also affects access to vital resources and the cultural integrity of communities.  We are committed to working with tribal leaders to help build more resilient Native communities in the face of a changing climate.”

Dutch Harbor -- famous for king crab -- is the last major refuel and resupply port before the 1,000-mile haul north through the Bering Strait to the drill site. Shell may have as many as 30 vessels there before they go north. Another drill ship, the Noble Discoverer, left Everett near on June 29 for its slow voyage to Unalaska.  Photo by Gary Braasch. Additional images and information are available at


The president’s Alaska visit is the first of a one-two-three drive to mobilize public opinion on the climate crisis at a time when allies of Big Oil and Big Coal still hold sway in Congress.

The second event will come later this month, when Pope Francis addresses a joint session of Congress — with global warming skeptic and House Speaker John Boehner sitting behind him — and then speaks at ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the United Nations.  The pope issued a powerful encyclical on human-caused climate change, and particularly its impact on the poor, in June.

The third event is a global conference in Paris this November, at which nations of the Earth will try to hammer out a plan to curb greenhouse gas emissions and other causes of climate change.

The turnout in Paris will range from China, the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to small island nations in the Pacific and Indian Oceans that are threatened by rising water levels as well as typhoons and cyclones of unprecedented power.

President Obama, cool to the climate issue in his 2008 campaign, has embraced control of emissions and development of “clean” energy as major themes in his second term.


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