Alaska: The Renaissance Of A Renaissance
The word, renaissance, is a very articulate expression. It means a revival or rebirth; especially related to culture and learning. By President Obama visiting Alaska he has actually revived Alaska. He has recaptured images of a place that is lonely, beautiful, rugged, cold and yet warm. On my request to the White House, I began receiving wonderful inputs from Alaska during President Obama’s three day visit which concluded on September 4, 2015.
President Obama has a unique style of greeting people. When he visited India in January 2015, he announced a dramatic development for our country. He told PM Modi that the US had approved a Nuclear Treaty involving India. This was minutes after he met Modi over a cup of tea at Hyderabad House. As President Obama stepped on Alaska’s ground, he announced something which brought tears of emotion into every Alaskan’s eyes. Mt. Mckinley, in Alaska, is the highest mountain in North America. The President announced that Mckinley will henceforth be given its native name- Denali; a step to reflect the heritage of Alaska Natives. Denali in Alaskan means, “ the tallest one.” The President’s profound thoughts in his speech brought to light the supreme intelligence of a man who spoke from his soul through his heart. He explained that Denali was a gift combined with an old and new ethos; naming the mountain Denali is new because its name was declared not long ago. But Denali as a word is thousands and thousands of years old.
A long time ago, before the continental drift, a portion of Russia was part of Alaska. So when the first settlers arrived Alaska, they were Siberians. The first people who came to Alaska was 15,000 years ago. Subsequently, when continents separated from others, Alaska was detached and became part of the land mass which is known as North America. How would the US resolve this? There was only one solution. Purchase Alaska from Russia. In 1867 the US paid Russia 7.2 million dollars in gold. That was what it cost to buy Alaska.
In 1872 gold was discovered in Sitka. In 1896 Oil was discovered in Cook Inlet. In 1857 coal mining began in Coal Harbour. Alaska was declared a State of the US on January 3, 1959.
President Obama has become the first President of the US to visit America’s arctic and to observe the effects of climate change. As Air Force One, Obama’s aircraft began its descent, President Obama after looking at some snow capped mountains looked through the window to see his first panoramic view of Alaska. He uttered to himself: “You sure have a history, don’t you?”
Climate change affects the Chinook salmonella fish that generations of Alaskans have relied on. The Obama Administration take new action to ensure Alaskans will have have a direct input into the survival of salmonella fish. To control the number of salmonella fish being caught nets with 4 inch gaps will be used. These nets are expensive compared to traditional nets with smaller gaps. But the Alaskans have appreciated the sacrifice. By catching less salmonella now it will allow the population of this fish to increase. There is resurrection bay where whales and sea lions are seen swimming about with carefree movements. Happy as their ancestors were thousands of years ago. Will climate change alter all that? Will the happiness of these creatures and these people become a chapter of the past? President Obama has marked areas where levels of glaciers have fallen. As President of the US he has actually verified some of these declining levels. Yes, its that serious. Temperatures in Alaska are projected to rise between 6-12 degrees, by the end of the century. That means more ice melt and rising sea levels. A picture of Kivalina island, taken from the President’s aircraft, already shows the island receding into the sea. It is happening in front of us. People from Kivalina are planning to relocate. The President had already stopped oil and gas exploration in Alaska last year. President related his visit to a coastal city—Dillingham, that rests on Nushagak Bay at the heart of the Bristol Bay salmon fishing district of Alaska. He stood on the beach and watched fishermen pulling their catches. This region provides 40 per cent of America’s wild caught seafood. It helps support a 2 billion dollar fishing industry. He terms it as “ a massive economic engine.” Robin, a senior Dillingham resident described to President Obama how the frozen tundra of his youth, has transformed into scrub; it is no longer forest; this conversion from forest to scrub has occurred in a few decades, due to global warming. When President Obama’s aircraft, Air Force One, took off over Anchorage, over Alaska’s snow and mountains and over cliffs by the sea, he must have been a thoughtful man. The same person who had expressed to the UN that we have only one planet. Can we not protect it? Leaving Alaska after three days has turned out to be a source of joy during some moments; but has also been an unhappy experience on occasion. During his flight back to Washington DC, he would have taken out his notebook and pen and begun to put his thoughts together. Climate change in Alaska: What signs of global warming did he see? Rising sea levels, glaciers melting, the tundra being reduced to scrub, to begin monitoring the survival of salmonella; how are whales, sea lions and other creatures reacting to rising temperatures? How will he enact a law in the US to stop carbon dioxide emissions? He is confronted with the same conundrum as leaders of other countries. How do leaders work out a balance between development and protecting the environment? President Obama is a person of determination; he has stopped industrial activity in Alaska. He will, therefore, not hesitate to counter the causes of climate change elsewhere in the US.
They have landed at Washington DC. The President’s words in Alaska conveyed a clarion call:“When it comes to climate change, I believe that there is such a thing as being too late; and that moment is almost here.”
By Deepak Rikhye