Tuesday, 15 September 2015 00:00
Bianca Jagger By Bianca Jagger, Truthout | Op-Ed
President Obama is the first incumbent US president to cross the Arctic Circle. The purpose of his expedition was to “witness first-hand the impact of climate change on the region” and to announce new measures to address it. Speaking at the Glacier climate summit in Anchorage, Alaska, Obama recognized the role of the United States “in creating this problem.” He also stated, “we embrace our responsibility to help solve it” because failure to do so will “condemn our children to a planet beyond their capacity to repair.” Yet less than one month ago, his administration gave the green light to Shell to drill for oil in the Arctic.
President Obama must know that it is impossible to protect the Arctic while allowing Shell to drill for oil 70 miles off the coast of Alaska. He cannot have it both ways. His policies and proclamations are irreconcilable.
During his three-day excursion to the Arctic Circle, he climbed a receding glacier, saw the melting Alaskan permafrost, met vulnerable coastal communities and addressed the Glacier climate summit.
On the first day of his trip, Obama participated in a roundtable discussion with Indigenous people from Alaska. At the Glacier summit, he urged fellow world leaders to reach an agreement at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Paris climate summit, COP21, in December that “protects the one planet … while we still can.”
On day two, Obama hiked the Exit Glacier in the Kenai Fjords National Park. He knows the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the United States and he is aware that the Exit Glacier has receded more than a mile since the start of the Industrial Revolution, with the rate of melting accelerating in the last few decades. He called the glacier “as good of a signpost as any when it comes to the impacts of climate change” and said he wanted his grandchildren to be able to see it one day. If President Obama really means this, how can he justify his approval of Shell’s plan to drill for oil in the Arctic?
On the third day of his trip, Obama met with local fishermen and families and attended a cultural performance by the children of Dillingham Middle School. The president joined the children in their last dance, saying: “I’ve been practicing.” He visited Kotzebue’s sea wall to see the effects of rising sea levels and the devastating impact of increased storm severity. President Obama must know that even if the world agrees to keep temperature rises to 2 degree Celsius, sea levels, due to the melting of the ice, may still rise by 20 feet (6 meters) by 2100.
In his weekly address on August 29, Obama tried to defend his approval of Shell’s Arctic drilling. He said that Americans “are concerned about oil companies drilling in environmentally sensitive waters” and he had the audacity to say “that’s precisely why my administration has worked to make sure that our oil exploration conducted under these leases is done at the highest standards possible, with requirements specifically tailored to the risks of drilling off Alaska.”
President Obama must know that no safeguards or standards will be enough to prevent an oil spill. According to a February 2015 report by his Department of the Interior Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (Alaska OCS Region), drilling in the Arctic has a 75 percent chance of a spill of more than 1,000 barrels of oil.