Beyond Ironic, Obama's Pending Arctic Visit Invites Charges of Hypocrisy

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Beyond Ironic, Obama's Pending Arctic Visit Invites Charges of Hypocrisy

Green-lighting drilling in the Arctic while promoting the need to protect it is 'like shooting rhinos to save them,' says climate campaigner

A 2013 action in Jerusalem calling on Obama to reject Arctic drilling proposals. (Photo: Greenpeace Nederland)

"Alaskans are on the front lines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century: climate change," President Barack Obama said in a video posted on the White House website Thursday, in which he announced an upcoming trip to the state to highlight the crisis of global warming. "Climate change once seemed like a problem for future generations. But for most Americans, it’s already a reality."

The words are nice. But some environmentalists have seized on the hypocrisy of Obama's rhetoric, given that he recently gave the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell to drill for Arctic offshore oil in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska.

Climate activists and scientists alike have warned that Shell's spotty safety record, combined with carbon that would be unlocked through drilling and extraction, pose severe danger to the ocean ecosystem, climate, and frontline communities.

Indeed, the prospect of drilling in the Arctic while promoting the need to protect it is "like shooting rhinos to save them," Ben Schreiber, climate and energy program director at Friends of the Earth, told the Huffington Post's Kate Sheppard.

Just yesterday, Oil Change International and Greenpeace released a report stating plainly that in order to stave off "climate disaster," Arctic oil must stay in the ground. Arctic drilling is "inconsistent" with efforts to keep global warming to less than 2° Celsius, according to the assessment, which echoed similar findings by other researchers.

"The bottom line is that there is no room for Arctic oil in a climate safe world," OCI's Hannah McKinnon wrote. "By allowing Shell to drill in the U.S. offshore Arctic Ocean, the Obama Administration is ignoring the world's best scientists, as well as millions of concerned citizens in North America and beyond."

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Bloomberg reported Friday that "Obama’s trip has prompted concern among Alaska politicians that he may announce new executive actions on climate change while in the state."

"The president of the United States doesn’t go to anybody’s state and stay three days and not do something," Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska.) reportedly said earlier this month at a breakfast with Bloomberg editors and reporters in Washington.

"So this is the talk about town. 'Oh my gosh, what’s he gonna do? Is he going to lock up ANWR?’'" she said, using an acronym for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. "'Is he going to put the Bering Sea canyons in as a marine protected sanctuary?' We don’t have any idea."

But for now, the announcement merely seems to underscore what climate activist and anti-capitalist Naomi Klein said of Obama on Democracy Now! last month: "He's doing a very good job of showing us what a climate leader sounds like," she told DN! host Amy Goodman. "But I'm afraid we've got a long way to go before we see what a climate leader acts like."

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