President Pushes for Faster Climate Action on Alaskan Tour

Published September 24, 2015

In Anchorage, the first stop on a three-day trip to Alaska aimed at promoting his efforts to fight man-created climate change, President Barack Obama said, “Climate change is no longer some far-off problem. It is happening here; it is happening now.”

Four times in his 24-minute speech Obama said, “We’re not acting fast enough.”

Referring to a United Nations climate summit scheduled to take place in Paris in December, Obama said, “This year, in Paris, has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can.”

Obama’s trip to Alaska was choreographed with visits to locations such as the receding Exit glacier in the Kenai Mountains, selected to provide a theatrical backdrop underscoring his message of the need for immediate international action. Obama argued no state is suffering more than Alaska from the effects of climate change, citing rising temperatures and melting glaciers. 

Climate Changes Natural

Despite Obama’s claims, serious scientists agree Obama’s fear-inducing warnings have little to do with actual scientific data and recorded observations.

Stephen Brown, Ph.D., the Agriculture and Natural Resources Cooperative Extension Service agent at the University of Alaska–Fairbanks, says glaciers have been retreating in fits and starts since the end of the last ice age.

“Alaska’s glaciers have been receding for the last 10,000 years,” said Brown.

Obama’s trip actually came in the midst of a growth spurt in Arctic sea ice. The trend of declining sea ice experienced from the mid-2000s to 2013 has reversed. A report in Nature Geoscience found cooler summer temperatures in 2013 resulted in a sea ice volume increase topping 33 percent. In 2014, there was still 25 percent more sea ice than in the years 2010 through 2012. Based on late summer weather changes in 2015, this winter also might bring an average expansion of sea ice.

“It is ironic we had our first frost during the president’s visit … a full two weeks ahead of our historical average,” said Brown.

Ecologist Jim Steele, former director of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus at San Francisco State University, argues the causes of climate change in Alaska are vastly more complicated than Obama’s narrative suggests.

“Before we can attribute any changes to rising CO2 concentrations, three other powerful factors must be considered,” Steele said. “First, in the 1990s, below-freezing winds from Siberia pushed thick ice into the Atlantic when the Arctic Oscillation shifted. Removal of insulating ice cover caused heat stored below the ocean’s surface to ventilate and raised air temperatures.

“Second, changes in El Niño and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation alter the flow of warm winds and ocean currents,” said Steele. “During a period of frequent El Niños in the 1980s and 1990s, Alaska was one of the more rapidly warming regions. Alaska became the most rapidly cooling region after the switch to more La Niñas after 1999. That cycle is now reverting to a warming trend.

“Finally, regional tree ring data [do] not suggest any extreme warming as suggested by adjusted instrument data,” Steele said. “Global satellite data also [do] not show any warming since 1999. Weather stations can suffer from an ‘urban heat effect,’ as for example temperatures in the small town of Barrow were 4º to 9º F warmer than out in the tundra.

“Furthermore, the instrumental data then undergoes adjustments that are highly subjective,” said Steele. “Canadian versus American adjustments have created century warming trends that differed threefold. These questionable adjustments are a major reason for the divergence problem between tree rings and instruments.”

Wrong Side of History

“Ironically, Obama’s climate barnstorming tour in Alaska comes as satellite data show no global warming for more than 18 years,” said Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News. “It is beginning to look like Obama is riding the wrong horse into history by tying his legacy to the scientifically disproven idea man is controlling Earth’s temperature.” 

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. ([email protected]) is managing editor of Environment & Climate News.