On Monday, President Obama took the stage in Anchorage, Alaska to address a gathering of foreign diplomats and Alaskan natives. He said that America is invested in energy efficiency “in every imaginable way,” that “we’re proving that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between a sound environment and strong economic growth,” and that those who deny the science of man-made climate change are “on their own shrinking island.”
If it were another president and another time, the words might have signaled a bold step in the right direction. But right now, President Obama’s forceful declaration at the opening of the GLACIER conference is so full of hypocrisy it’s impossible to swallow.
The three-day conference (an acronym for Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience) is ostensibly a chance for both America and the world to talk about the dangers of global warming and what world leaders can do about it. Even so, for President Obama to open the event by saying those leaders need to act on climate change or “condemn our children to a world they will no longer have the capacity to repair” is pretty bold for a diplomatic affair.
Obama added that, “None of the nations represented here are moving fast enough,” but that the US “recognizes our role in creating this problem and embraces our role in solving it.”
The fact that Obama would say these things while standing on Alaskan soil would be absurd if the public actually gave a damn about the President’s two-faced climate policy. And this is why: Though the President has taken a 21st century view on climate change in the latter half of his second term – unveiling a Clean Power Plan to reduce the country’s CO2 emissions, strengthening regulations against water pollution and even sitting down with Bill Nye to discuss the need for climate action – his oil drilling policy is dangerously antiquated.
In late March, the US Interior Department told one of the biggest oil companies on the planet that it can begin drilling for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea. This is despite the fact that the Interior Department itself calculated that drilling in the Chukchi carries a 75 percent risk of a major oil spill occurring – a disaster that will be unlike any other due to the hostile nature of the Arctic environment and the potential for emergency crews to be frozen out of the region.
Activists in both Portland and Seattle have protested against Shell’s oil development in the Arctic, staging demonstrations against the multinational while its ships were docked in the cities’ harbors, but it has deterred neither Shell nor Obama from pursuing this policy. Just last month, the White House granted Shell permission to drill even deeper into the Chukchi.
During his GLACIER address, Obama told the audience that he has met with some of Alaska’s Native people. They described how their villages “are slipping into the sea,” how the animals are changing their migratory patterns, how the animals they hunt and fish are beginning to vanish. The President implored his audience to do something about climate change for the sake of the “God-given majesty of this place [Alaska]” and ask themselves if they’re doing everything they can to protect it. For the sake of their grandchildren, said Obama. “Are we doing everything we can to make their lives safer, and more secure, and more prosperous?” he asked.
“We can’t prevent oil exploration completely in [the] region,” Obama tweeted back in May.
What contributes to global warming? What contributes to climate change? The scientific evidence is unequivocal: Greenhouse gases emitted by industrial operations, particularly the burning of fossil fuels. The development and burning of fossil fuels – coal, oil and natural gas – is baking this planet alive, trapping the thermal heat of the sun and causing unprecedented extremes in heat, weather and suffering across national borders.
President Obama’s speech yesterday was meant to be inspiring, forceful and a little controversial. Instead, it is sickening and dangerous. Every sentiment he expressed was the right one, each lamentation for the vanishing wonders of Alaska and its grossly extended fire season accurate, and yet the words were spoken by a man who held the state’s fate in his hand, and gave it away to Big Oil.
That is what makes the President’s speech sickening. What makes it dangerous is the underlying message it sends to the rest of the world: Yes, it’s important to say you’re against climate change, but no, you don’t have to actually mean it.
“It’s not enough just to talk the talk,” said Obama in closing. “We’ve got to walk the walk.”
You first, Mr. President.