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Activists Scale ExxonMobil Rig on 25th Anniversary of Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Today, on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska, Greenpeace climbers scaled an ExxonMobil rig destined to drill in the Russian Arctic. The activists are calling for a ban on offshore oil drilling in the Arctic and for renewed efforts to fight climate change.
"We are here today, on the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez disaster, to protest against ExxonMobil's plans of drilling in the Arctic,” said Ethan Gilbert, a U.S. activist who lived in Alaska when the disaster happened in 1989. “I was a young child living in Alaska when the Exxon Valdez disaster happened and the effects there are still being felt on the people and the environment even today. In the Arctic the effects would be even worse. We are here on behalf of over 5 million people who have joined the movement to protect the Arctic from oil drilling.”
Fourteen activists from seven different countries took part in the protest in Norway, where five of them scaled the West Alpha oilrig and unfurled a banner saying: “No Exxon Valdez in Russian Arctic.”
ExxonMobil plans to drill in the most extreme and remote area of the Arctic this year,” said Erlend Tellnes, Arctic campaigner with Greenpeace Nordic. “This is madness—if something goes wrong, they will be all alone in the far north, with rescue equipment located thousands of kilometers away. We need to stop all oil companies before they cause the inevitable spill in the Arctic, where the harsh conditions would make it impossible to clean up. Look at Exxon Valdez. It is still affecting Alaskan nature 25 years after the accident."
ExxonMobil is the world's largest oil company and has a multi-billion dollar joint venture with Russia’s Rosneft to explore for oil in the Kara Sea, a project that will start this summer. The drilling block where Exxon will operate overlaps with the legally protected Russian Arctic National Park, an area renowned for its magnificent wildlife. The area is home to polar bears and bowhead whales and includes walrus rookeries and one of the largest bird colonies in the northern hemisphere. According to Russian law it is illegal to drill for oil in the area.
“We can't afford to risk an Exxon Valdez disaster in the Arctic, which would be impossible to clean up," said Tellnes. “It is time to go beyond oil. We know that we have to keep these fossil fuels in the ground if we want to prevent further climate changes.”
The Arctic is one of the most extreme and hostile environments to drill for oil on the planet. The ExxonMobil drill site is covered by thick sea ice for 270-300 days of the year, whilst temperatures as low as -45 degrees Celsious are not uncommon. The Kara Sea is often battered by fierce storms and during the long northern winter is plunged into months of almost total darkness.
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Last week, the Peruvian Palm Oil Producers' Association (JUNPALMA) promised to enter into an agreement for sustainable and deforestation-free palm oil production. The promise was secured by the U.S. based National Wildlife Federation (NWF) in collaboration with the local government, growers and the independent conservation organization Sociedad Peruana de Ecodesarrollo.
The rallying cry to build it again and to build it better than before is inspiring after a natural disaster, but it may not be the best course of action, according to new research published in the journal Science.
"Faced with global warming, rising sea levels, and the climate-related extremes they intensify, the question is no longer whether some communities will retreat—moving people and assets out of harm's way—but why, where, when, and how they will retreat," the study begins.
The researchers suggest that it is time to rethink retreat, which is often seen as a last resort and a sign of weakness. Instead, it should be seen as the smart option and an opportunity to build new communities.
"We propose a reconceptualization of retreat as a suite of adaptation options that are both strategic and managed," the paper states. "Strategy integrates retreat into long-term development goals and identifies why retreat should occur and, in doing so, influences where and when."
The billions of dollars spent to rebuild the Jersey Shore and to create dunes to protect from future storms after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 may be a waste if sea level rise inundates the entire coastline.
"There's a definite rhetoric of, 'We're going to build it back better. We're going to win. We're going to beat this. Something technological is going to come and it's going to save us,'" said A.R. Siders, an assistant professor with the disaster research center at the University of Delaware and lead author of the paper, to the New York Times. "It's like, let's step back and think for a minute. You're in a fight with the ocean. You're fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that's not the battle we want to pick."
Rethinking retreat could make it a strategic, efficient, and equitable way to adapt to the climate crisis, the study says.
Dr. Siders pointed out that it has happened before. She noted that in the 1970s, the small town of Soldiers Grove, Wisconsin moved itself out of the flood plain after one too many floods. The community found and reoriented the business district to take advantage of highway traffic and powered it entirely with solar energy, as the New York Times reported.
That's an important lesson now that rising sea levels pose a catastrophic risk around the world. Nearly 75 percent of the world's cities are along shorelines. In the U.S. alone coastline communities make up nearly 40 percent of the population— more than 123 million people, which is why Siders and her research team are so forthright about the urgency and the complexities of their findings, according to Harvard Magazine.
Some of those complexities include, coordinating moves across city, state or even international lines; cultural and social considerations like the importance of burial grounds or ancestral lands; reparations for losses or damage to historic practices; long-term social and psychological consequences; financial incentives that often contradict environmental imperatives; and the critical importance of managing retreat in a way that protects vulnerable and poor populations and that doesn't exacerbate past injustices, as Harvard Magazine reported.
If communities could practice strategic retreats, the study says, doing so would not only reduce the need for people to choose among bad options, but also improve their circumstances.
"It's a lot to think about," said Siders to Harvard Magazine. "And there are going to be hard choices. It will hurt—I mean, we have to get from here to some new future state, and that transition is going to be hard.…But the longer we put off making these decisions, the worse it will get, and the harder the decisions will become."
To help the transition, the paper recommends improved access to climate-hazard maps so communities can make informed choices about risk. And, the maps need to be improved and updated regularly, the paper said as the New York Times reported.
"It's not that everywhere should retreat," said Dr. Siders to the New York Times. "It's that retreat should be an option. It should be a real viable option on the table that some places will need to use."
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