President Obama, Are You a Climate Champion or a Climate Hypocrite?
President Obama just gave away the American Arctic Ocean to one of the most irresponsible oil companies on Earth, and he will bear responsibility for the consequences. The decision to green light every step of Shell’s pathway to its oil and gas lease in the Chukchi Sea was a critical test of President Obama’s climate legacy, and he failed.
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) August 6, 2015
Drilling for Arctic oil and gas is unnecessary and should not even be up for consideration according to the latest climate science. Yet over the past five months, the federal government has been busy removing any and all administrative hurdles in Shell’s way. After affirming the original lease sale and approving every permit needed to discharge pollution, harass wildlife and transport its drilling fleet to the Chukchi Sea, it looks like the Obama administration wants Shell there as quickly as possible.
The irony of President Obama’s climate position is not lost on the American people. We have repeatedly been told about the unprecedented threat that climate change poses to the health and well-being of our environment and society. In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama said, “No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”
At the United Nations Climate Change Summit in October 2014, he said the urgent and growing threat of climate change will dramatically define this century and that the U.S. is stepping up and embracing our responsibility to combat it. On the contrary, he continues to let companies like Shell move forward with destructive fossil fuel projects.
The question every American should be asking right now is: “President Obama, are you a climate champion or a climate hypocrite?”
If Shell’s more than $7 billion gamble leads to the discovery of recoverable oil and gas deposits, the earliest production could begin is between 2025 and 2030. By 2025, however, the U.S. has agreed to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels. Despoiling the pristine Arctic to increase oil and gas production at a time when we need to be reducing emissions makes no logical sense.
If President Obama earnestly wants to use his remaining term in office to combat climate change, his choice regarding oil and gas development in the Arctic Ocean should be easy. If Shell continues to get its way, we are faced with a very bleak future:
- Unpredictable sea ice conditions and storms lead to accidents for Shell’s drilling fleet, where emergency responses are limited due their location 70 miles from shore and nearly 1,000 miles from the nearest Coast Guard base.
- A 75 percent chance of a large oil spill that Arctic conditions make extremely difficult and nearly impossible to contain or clean up.
- A number of iconic marine animal species, including threatened and endangered species like the Pacific walrus and polar bear, are harassed during Shell’s drilling operations.
- Subsistence hunters are unable to access or hunt the animals that are of vital importance to their culture.
- Climate change is exacerbated as the extraction and burning of Arctic oil and gas releases an estimated 15.8 billion tons of carbon emissions. As a result, reductions in sea ice continue to reach record levels and coastal erosion forces several Alaska Native villages to permanently relocate.
But this does not have to be the new reality for the American Arctic Ocean. President Obama has one last opportunity to stop this reckless and short-sighted project. He can deny Shell’s revised application to allow for deeper drilling of oil and gas deposits and protect the people and wildlife that depend on a vibrant Chukchi Sea environment from a toxic legacy that will surely last decades.
— Friends of the Earth (@foe_us) August 13, 2015
If President Obama takes a stand, billions of gallons of oil will be left in the ground, and an important message sent to Big Oil: the oil and gas deposits contained under the American Arctic Ocean belong to the American people and will be managed in their best interest, not the interest of growing Big Oil’s profits. The legitimacy of U.S. leadership as head of the Arctic Council will be strengthened and President Obama will be poised to start a needed discussion about curtailing fossil fuel extraction going into the United Nations climate talks in Paris this winter.
The American Arctic Ocean is a sensitive, ecologically-rich, and unforgiving environment, making it one of the worst places to drill but one of the best places to stand up and say “No!” to Big Oil. President Obama should be held responsible for his deeds and not his words. He can no longer hide behind his climate legacy rhetoric while giving Shell access to Arctic oil and gas without being called a climate hypocrite. The American people, the Arctic Ocean and our climate future expect and deserve better.
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The History<p>The Middle Fork Nooksack drains glacier-fed headwater streams that run off the icy summit of 10,778-foot Mt. Baker. The Middle Fork joins the North Fork and then the mainstem of the Nooksack River, which travels to Bellingham Bay and Puget Sound. The entire Nooksack watershed stretches 830 square miles across Washington and into British Columbia.</p>
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Project layout for the removal of the Middle Fork Nooksack diversion dam and rebuilding of water intake. City of Bellingham<p>Despite the cost and the work, she says, being able to continue to meet their municipal water obligations while opening up habitat for threatened species has been a win-win.</p><p>"I think there's a lot of benefits to having a dam removal versus fish passage — the main one being that you get a free-flowing river that can be a dynamic ecosystem and change over time," she says. "A static fish ladder just can't provide that same level of ecosystem benefit."</p>
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Spider excavators remove on dam on San Juan Creek in California's Cleveland National Forest. Julie Donnell, USFS<p>The results have been seen in the Pacific Northwest, as well, which boasts the largest dam removal thus far in the country. In 2011 and 2014, the demolition of <a href="https://therevelator.org/elwha-dam-removal/" target="_blank">two dams</a> on Elwha River, which runs through Washington's Olympic National Park, opened up 70 miles of habitat that had been blocked for a century. Scientists have started seeing all five species of salmon native to the river coming back, particularly Chinook and coho. Bull trout, they've observed, have increased in size since the dams were removal.</p>
Benefits on the Middle Fork Nooksack<p>McEwan hopes to see a similar outcome on the Middle Fork.</p><p>Like the Elwha the Middle Fork Nooksack is a relatively pristine river with little development, and dam removal is expected to provide a big boost to fish. The additional miles of spawning habitat are important, but so is the temperature of that water.</p><p>The dam removal will open access to cold upstream waters, which are ideal for salmon and getting harder to come by as climate change warms waters and reduces mountain runoff.</p><p>"This is really great for the climate change resiliency for these species," says McEwan.</p><p>Steelhead will get back 45% of their historic habitat in the river, and scientists expect Chinook populations to increase in abundance by 31%.</p><p>That <em>could</em> help Southern Resident killer whales.</p><p>"When you get to the ocean, it's a little bit of a black box in terms of what you can model and say definitively is going to help, but more fish is better for orcas," McEwan says.</p><p>Upstream habitat will see benefits, too.</p><p>Oceangoing fish like salmon enrich their bodies with carbon and nitrogen while at sea. When they return to their natal rivers to spawn and die, the marine-derived nutrients they carry back upriver become important food and fertilizer for both riverine and terrestrial ecosystems — aiding everything from trees to birds to bears.</p><p>"Once the fish start making their way back, it will start changing the whole ecological system," says Delgado.</p><p><span></span>But any ecological benefit from salmon restoration, either in the ocean or the upper watershed, won't be immediate.<br></p><p>"The population of salmon on the Middle Fork is so low that we expect it's going to take quite a while to rebound," she says. "But the big picture is that what's good for salmon is good for the region — our history and our destiny are intricately intertwined."</p><p>After decades of work, that process of restoration has finally begun.</p>
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Building a Global Seahorse Hotel Chain<p>With seahorses everywhere facing the loss of their coral reef homes, similar projects have sprung up in places like Greece and South Africa, home to the world's most endangered seahorse, the Knysna seahorse. </p><p>"The endangered South African seahorse is benefiting from something quite similar, even though it wasn't intentional," said Peter Teske, professor at the Department of Zoology, University of Johannesburg.</p><p>In the South African <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/322649251_An_endangered_seahorse_selectively_chooses_an_artificial_structure" target="_blank">case</a>, seahorses have bedded down in "Reno mattresses" — wire cages filled with rocks — that were used to build a new marina. Researchers from NGO Knysna Basin Project found the structures acted as a refuge for the animals.<span></span></p><p><span></span>While Teske describes the seahorse hotels as "a positive news story" and a great way to create public awareness of conservation, he added that establishing artificial habitats in some areas will only prevent the extinction of local populations.</p><p>"For a complete recovery, it is necessary to give the natural habitat a chance to regenerate," said the seahorse expert. </p>
Underwater Mascot<p>In Australia, the researchers hope the project could provide an opportunity to raise awareness not only of the plight of the Sydney seahorses but the other animals with which it shares its ocean habitat.</p><p>The waters around Sydney and the east coast are rich in biodiversity and include several threatened species like the weedy seadragon — a relative of the seahorse — and the grey nurse shark. Like the seahorse, they're also under pressure from pollution, ocean traffic and habitat loss through storms and coastal construction. </p><p>"It's a good thing to get people's support and interest. The seahorses are a useful vehicle to get people concerned if the harbor is in trouble," said David Booth, professor of marine ecology at the University of Technology Sydney who is also working on the project. </p><p>The hotels have become an attraction for divers hoping to catch a glimpse of these small but near mythical creatures. </p><p>"Everyone loves seahorses," added Booth, "they are so popular." </p>
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