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Obama Risks the Arctic and His Voter Base

Insights + Opinion
Obama Risks the Arctic and His Voter Base

Phil Radford

On Dec. 6, President Obama's staff held a hearing on their proposed 5 year oil leasing plan. A plan that would open up drilling in the Arctic. I was there with Cindy Shogan of Alaska Wilderness League, rallying people to urge the President to stop risking the Arctic and the support of young environmental voters.

When the BP Deepwater disaster happened, I saw firsthand the destruction that oil drilling causes on the environment.

Miles of oil-covered coastline destroyed the original beauty of the Gulf coast. Billions of dollars that people depended upon to feed their families were never earned. Oil-covered birds were suffering. Dolphins would swim near our Greenpeace ship under a sheen of oil. Around the Gulf, it was reported that when the dolphins surfaced, they would accidentally breathe in the oil, and you could hear them making a sound like coughing. The Gulf coast, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, fell further into despair. The people’s livelihoods—from fishing to tourism—were destroyed.

Now President Obama is proposing that we open Alaska for drilling, and in doing so, he is taking two monumental risks.

First, he is risking the fragile, untouched ecosystems that are more vulnerable to an oil spill than those in the Gulf. The Arctic is home to polar bears, bowhead whales, walruses, ice seals and hundreds of species of birds. The Coast Guard calls an oil spill in the Arctic “a nightmare scenario.” The reason that it will be so difficult, if not impossible, to “clean” an Arctic oil spill is because the area is pitch black for half of the year and the water is covered with sheets of floating ice. If BP could only clean about 3 percent of the oil spilled in the Gulf, it seems unlikely that Shell and Obama, in Arctic conditions, could do any better.

The second risk the President is taking is the fact that once again, like with his initial efforts to promote the Keystone Pipeline that would have shipped Tar Sands through the U.S., he is risking the hours, passion and contributions of his supporter base, particularly young voters.

These Arctic lease sales—not to mention previous decisions he has made that enable drilling in the Beaufort Sea—are potentially disastrous. They are disastrous for our environment and for the prospects of young Americans, who vote on the environment, supporting the President come election season.

It’s time to protect the Earth’s final frontier. We need an energy revolution and it needs to start right now. President Obama can help us take a step in the right direction by making sure the five year plan doesn’t include new arctic leases.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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