Quantcast

Arctic Reality: If We Want to Limit Global Warming We Cannot Drill for Oil in the Chukchi Sea

Energy

Last week, President Obama made the most extensive presidential visit to Alaska ever. He hiked on a glacier, met with Native Alaskans and became the first president ever to visit the Arctic Circle. Throughout, he was calling attention to the real, on-the-ground effects of climate change. That makes sense given that Alaska is being affected by global warming more dramatically and more swiftly than any other state.

Alaska has already warmed 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 60 years according to the U.S. National Climate Assessment. This year alone, wildfires in the state have burned more than 5 million acres. Ironically, this is happening in a state that is uniquely dependent on the oil and gas industries. Yet allowing those industries to extract all of Alaska's considerable fossil fuel reserves would not only destroy much of its incredible wilderness but also lead to even worse climate disruption—not just for Alaska, but for the world:

"Our results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80% of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 degrees Celsius," Paul Ekins and Christophe McGlade wrote in the journal Nature earlier this year. "We show that development of resources in the Arctic and any increase in unconventional oil production are incommensurate with efforts to limit average global warming to 2 degrees Celsius." [3.6 degrees Fahrenheit]

It's that simple: If we want to limit global warming then we cannot continue developing new fossil fuel resources in the Arctic. That reality is what President Obama and his administration ignored by allowing Shell Oil to proceed with drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer. They also ignored the reality that a spill in Arctic seas would be an unprecedented environmental disaster. Or, perhaps it's fairer to say that they decided it was a risk they were willing to take. On that point, we can only hope they get lucky—although if Shell continues drilling, the administration's own calculations show that the odds are not in their favor, with a 75 percent chance of a major spill.

As Rebecca Solnit poignantly wrote in The Guardian, "There is an ugly irony about extracting oil from one of the places already threatened by the effects of burning fossil fuel—where the summer ice is much reduced and temperatures are shooting up: you make the place complicit in its own destruction."

President Obama said it himself almost a year ago: "We are the first generation to feel the effect of climate change and the last generation who can do something about it." President Obama has stepped up in many ways—with the Clean Power Plan, with stronger fuel-economy measures, and other initiatives. Those are all good but, in this case, good isn't good enough. Our generation needs greatness. Mistakes like opening the Arctic to new drilling are no way to get there.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Bonn Climate Talks Fail to Deliver Common Grounds Undermining Hopes of Meaningful Deal in Paris

Obama Snaps Epic Selfie With Bear Grylls in Alaska

Even Wall Street Asks: 'Why Would You Not?' Take Action on Climate Change

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Logging state in the U.S. is seen representing some of the consequences humans will face in the absence of concrete action to stop deforestation, pollution and the climate crisis. Mark Newman / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images

Talk is cheap, says the acting executive secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, who begged governments around the world to make sure that 2020 is not another year of conferences and empty promises, but instead is the year to take decisive action to stop the mass extinction of wildlife and the destruction of habitat-sustaining ecosystems, as The Guardian reported.

Read More
The people of Kiribati have been under pressure to relocate due to sea level rise. A young woman wades through the salty sea water that flooded her way home on Sept. 29, 2015. Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Refugees fleeing the impending effects of the climate crisis cannot be forced to return home, according to a new decision by the United Nations Human Rights Committee, as CNN reported. The new decision could open up a massive wave of legal claims by displaced people around the world.

Read More
Sponsored
The first day of the Strike WEF march on Davos on Jan. 18, 2020 near Davos, Switzerland. The activists want climate justice and think the WEF is for the world's richest and political elite only. Kristian Buus / In Pictures via Getty Images

By Ashutosh Pandey

Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg is returning to the Swiss ski resort of Davos for the 2020 World Economic Forum with a strong and clear message: put an end to the fossil fuel "madness."

Read More
Protesters attend a rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court held by the group Our Children's Trust Oct. 29, 2018 in Washington, DC. The group and the plaintiffs have vowed to keep fighting and to ask the full Ninth Circuit to review Friday's decision to toss the lawsuit. Win McNamee / Getty Images

An appeals court tossed out the landmark youth climate lawsuit Juliana v. United States Friday, arguing that the courts are not the place to resolve the climate crisis.

Read More
The land around Red Knoll near Kanab, UT that could have been razed for a frac sand mine. Tara Lohan

By Tara Lohan

A sign at the north end of Kanab, Utah, proclaims the town of 4,300 to be "The Greatest Earth on Show."

Read More