Mixed Messages: President Obama’s Alaskan Climate Trip

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Mixed Messages: President Obama’s Alaskan Climate Trip

Until President Obama and Secretary Kerry actually work towards an end to exploration, expansion and production of oil, coal and gas that we clearly cannot afford to burn – their legacy threatens to ultimately be one of denial of what this crisis truly requires. (Image: Oil Change International)

On Monday, President Obama and Secretary Kerry are going to Alaska. Their main goal (as we talked about here) is to see the front lines of climate change first hand.

Yet at the same time, in the same region, Royal Dutch Shell is now powering ahead with its newly approved summer 2015 drilling season, thanks to the Obama Administration’s greenlighting of their last remaining permit application about two weeks ago.

The tragic irony should be lost on no one. What message is the President sending? Is the melting Arctic an alarm bell for urgent climate action or a welcome mat for Big Oil?

Anyone who suggests it can be both can’t avoid being labelled a hypocrite.

Alaska is on the front lines of the changing climate. With the Arctic warming at a rate twice as fast as the global average, the region is without doubt among the most vulnerable as permafrost melts, ice cover disappears, and livelihoods that have supported generations face crises.

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These impacts are best told by residents from across the state, you can read some powerful stories here, here and here.

As we pointed out in a recent report with Greenpeace – not only is the Arctic on the front lines of a rapidly changing climate, it is a textbook example of carbon that must be left in the ground and remain unburned.

The fact that Shell’s permits have been approved is only part of the story when it comes to the government’s double speak on climate action – the Administration continues to sell more leases to oil companies to drill to the ends of the earth for fossil fuels that science assures us we cannot afford to burn.

A big part of the problem is that the scenario that the government uses to justify such reckless exploration and expansion would be best labelled the “assuming climate chaos” scenario. As we point out here the EIA Reference Case Scenario assumes the status quo – that nothing will come of efforts to address climate change and fossil fuel demand.

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The Obama Administration is planning its energy policy on the basis that its own climate policy will fail (as well as any that comes in the coming years). It is reckless, disingenuous, and downright offensive to those living the impacts of climate change everyday around the world.

Scientists are clear that we must leave at least 80% of the fossil fuels we already have access to in the ground. Exploration and expansion of resources like the Arctic that wouldn’t come online for at least a decade is nothing short of climate denial.

President Obama and Secretary Kerry seem to get the urgent need to tackle climate change, at least on a rhetorical level. We have heard compelling speeches, seen noble policy efforts, and heard about the impact having children has had on the urgency felt to leave a strong climate legacy.

But until President Obama and Secretary Kerry actually work towards an end to exploration, expansion and production of oil, coal and gas that we clearly cannot afford to burn – their legacy threatens to ultimately be one of denial of what this crisis truly requires. Alaskans will undoubtedly be sharing compelling stories this week, and it is time for the President to listen, do what is right, and put an end to high risk Arctic oil exploration.  

Check out more of what local groups have planned and what they will be telling the President and Secretary Kerry here.

Send your own message to the President while he is in Alaska here, telling him that the Arctic must come off the table for Big Oil if he is serious about the climate crisis.

Hannah McKinnon

Hannah McKinnon a climate activist and contributing writer for Oil Change International. Follow her on Twitter: @mckinnon_hannah

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