President Obama said in his weekly radio address that he will travel to Alaska next week to highlight the effects of climate change, but he defended his decision to allow oil drilling to go ahead off the state’s Arctic coast.
The president said that Alaskans are already living with the effects of climate change, including rising sea levels, more frequent and extensive forest fires, melting glaciers, bigger storm surges and “some of the swiftest shoreline erosion in the world.” He said that without action temperatures in Alaska could rise six to 12 degrees by the end of the century.
Obama, who is seeking to rally world leaders to commit to lowering greenhouse gas emissions ahead of a global climate change conference in Paris in December, said that "rising sea levels are beginning to swallow one island community” in Alaska. He said, "Think about that. If another country threatened to wipe out an American town, we’d do everything in our power to protect ourselves. Climate change poses the same threat, right now.”
Obama has, however, allowed oil exploration to continue in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s Arctic coast and drilling by Shell Oil is underway at one well now. The president said in his radio address Saturday that as the United States makes a transition to renewable fuels, it will still need to rely on oil and natural gas. "As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports, and we should demand the highest safety standards in the industry – our own,” he said. He said that requirements for Shell’s permits had been "specifically tailored to the risks of drilling off Alaska. We don’t rubber-stamp permits.”
Obama will speak Monday at a conference of Arctic nations in Anchorage, visit a glacier on Tuesday and travel to two small coastal Alaskan towns on Wednesday before returning to Washington.