The president's fine words on climate change are an odd mix with his open door for Shell's deep-drilling exploitation of the threatened Arctic
/By Hal Ginsberg/ President Obama is receiving praise for his fine-sounding speech at the Glacier Conference in Alaska Aug. 31 on the urgency of combating global warming. If the soaring rhetoric, reminiscent of Obama circa 2008, were married to concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, I'd be happy to join the acclaim. With July 2015 in the books as the hottest month recorded since accurate record-keeping began following on the heels of the hottest June and the hottest May, it is clear we must cut back immediately on our consumption of fossil fuels or we risk apocalypse in this century.
The President certainly seems to get this. Here's how he described the near future if . . . well he didn't quite specify if anything but Obama warned:
[T]here’s not going to be a nation on this Earth that’s not impacted negatively. People will suffer. Economies will suffer. Entire nations will find themselves under severe, severe problems. More drought; more floods; rising sea levels; greater migration; more refugees; more scarcity; more conflict.
The problem is Obama's deeds are antithetical to his words. He declined to thwart Shell's plan to drill for oil in the Chuckchi Sea. Audubon Alaska calls this remote corner of the Arctic:
one of the most productive ocean ecosystems in the world. Its vast, shallow sea floor and seasonal ice cover provide nutrients and pristine habitat for a multitude of organisms, ranging from walruses to ice seals to whales to millions of seabirds to the top predator mammal, the polar bear.
Bottom line, if there's a spill lots of wildlife, including endangered megafauna, will die and it will take a long time and huge expenses to attempt remediation. Of course, even if there's no spill, the petroleum dredged from under the sea will do its damage to our planet's ecosystem when it's consumed.
Approving deep drilling by Shell in a critical region for walrus and polar bears, among other endangered species, is not the President's only hypocritical act with respect to the Arctic. He has also called for the construction of more icebreakers to allow the US to compete with Russia which is expanding its influence over the top of the world.
Now this is a truly insane move if you are serious about global warming. The Arctic is melting undoubtedly. The sea ice that was once feet deep is now merely inches in summer. By 2030, it could the Arctic could be ice-free in the summer. Ice melt exacerbates global warming as the white snow and ice that reflects solar radiation gives way to dark heat absorbing water.
The Obama administration's response: Let's send some icebreakers up there to chop up the remaining floes. Of course crushed ice melts much faster than ice cubes as anybody who's worked a soda fountain knows full well. Rather than trying to preserve the ice that remains as long as possible, we're going to rip right through it.
When examined in this light, even Obama's words lose their luster. While the President painted a grim future for Alaska if steps aren't taken now to curb climate change, the following words and phrases are nowhere to be found in his speech: coal, natural gas, oil, petroleum, greenhouse, global warming, fossil fuels. Early in it, though, Obama promised visiting dignitaries, "I want to be very clear -- we are eager to work with your nations on the unique opportunities that the Arctic presents" (emphasis supplied).
Imagine how much powerful the President's speech would have been if, after describing the parade of horribles to come should we continue on our present energy trajectory, he said the following:
Because we still can derail the onrushing global warming freight train, I have rescinded Shell's license to drill in the Arctic and am declaring the entire region under US control off limits to commercial development. We are also initiating emergency talks with Russia and other Arctic nations to protect for this and future generations the pristine nature of the top-of-the-world. We have made clear that we will not accept promises to act in the future or slow-walks away from plans to exploit the region. We are prepared to provide economic assistance to less-developed nations to ensure that impoverished majorities are not left behind.
But Obama said nothing of the kind. For our "progressive" President, the melting Arctic presents unique opportunities for corporations like Shell . . . for polar bears and walruses and Arctic whales, it will be their watery grave.
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