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Episode 18: The President’s Visit

By KTVA Alaska 2:31 PM August 30, 2015

The upcoming visit of President Barack Obama is a story that’s hard to get your arms around. The information released early on has been intentionally vague, but we’re told that’s typical of presidential visits.

But what’s not typical is the historic nature of the president’s journey to Alaska. He’ll be the first president to venture into the Arctic.

Also, his length of his stay is significant — almost three days with stops in Anchorage, Seward, Dillingham and Kotzebue. In most presidential visits, Alaska is not the destination but rather a refueling stop.

Obama’s visit will also play out on an international stage. He’ll be meeting with Arctic leaders from around the world to take up the issue of climate change.

This week’s Frontiers program is designed to give you the 360-degree view of the president’s visit.

Some of the highlights:

  • KTVA’s Emily Carlson travels to Kotzebue and Dillingham to find out what those communities want the president to know about how climate change has affected them. From hunting and fishing to life and safety, the consequences are far-reaching.
  • A look at the political tightrope the president is walking. On one hand, environmental groups are angry over his decision to allow drilling in Arctic water, yet there are those who see the Arctic as a vast frontier for developing Alaska’s resources and feel limited by his policies.
  • Insights into the president’s attempt to find balance. Our guests this week are former Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer and retired U.S. Coast Guard admiral Robert Papp. Ulmer is now chair of the Arctic Research Commission and Papp serves as U.S. Special Representative to the Arctic. To hear more from Ulmer and Papp, watch this web extra.
  • A look back at past presidential visits to Alaska. Historian Laurel Downing Bill, author of the Aunt Phil’s Trunk series, joins us on a trip to Talkeetna, where President Warren Harding made history in 1923 as the first president to visit the territory.

There’s been quite a buildup to the president’s Alaska visit, including a video from the White House, with Obama explaining why he wants to put the spotlight on Alaska. He says climate change in Alaska is not just a threat but instead a reality — a good place to educate Americans about the consequences of climate change, to help them understand how they, too, may feel the impacts.

Obama’s critics say Alaskans want to be more than just a backdrop for the president’s agenda, which they claim is mainly to cement his environmental legacy.

In this last week, we’ve heard from many leaders about their hopes for Obama’s visit.

The President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, told the Alaska Legislature’s Arctic Policy Commission addressing climate change has to be a democratic process — not a top-down approach. He said the voices of those communities most affected by climate change need to be heard, and it’ll be up to local governments to make sure this happens.

We hope this edition of Frontiers is part of that process, bringing you an introduction to the issues — which will affect the lives of Alaskans, both today and tomorrow.

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