Men and women for years have travelled to the last frontier to find themselves, declare their existence and solidify their legacy in the wildness of Alaska.
Adolf Murie, Ginny Wood, Chris McCandless are a few of the naturalists and adventurers who made the pilgrimage to Alaska, to use the snowy mirror of the biggest range in the world to see what their made of. This week, our president will do the same, venturing to the great north to culminate his climate legacy, to celebrate the policies he’s championed like no other president in history, in the finest example of what we’re seeking to protect.
Obama’s climate legacy will go down as the most progressive of all time, hopefully only until the next president (Go Bernie) eclipses it, and his accolades are many: deep investment of green energy in the grips of our stimulus and recovery, wide use of the Antiquities Act to expand and create new federally protected wildernesses, the Clean Power Plan, the first agreement with China to curb emissions and his widespread advocacy to go further than his powers reach.
Obama has much to be proud of as he sucks down fresh air and gazes out on Alaska’s beauty. And just because he’s so amped on this trip, he’s restored Denali as the official name of our country’s tallest mountain, much to the chagrin of lawmakers in William McKinley’s home state of Ohio (maybe they can rename Campbell Hill, Ohio’s highpoint at 1,550’, Mt. McKinley).
Unfortunately, the Denali nod, or the protection of Alaska’s Bristol Bay earlier this year, seem more like a PR move than a simple commitment to do the right thing. Obama, for reasons of terrible timing, travels to Alaska to champion his climate legacy with a bit of a black eye, a Shell Ice Breaker floating off the arctic coast of northern Alaska.
The decision to authorize Shell to drill in the arctic is an abysmal contradiction to the positions this victory lap is predicated on. Drilling in the arctic has never been done before and is considered insanely risky. The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the agency who authorized shell reports that there is a 75% chance of one or more spills in the next 77 years. A disaster is more likely to happen than not.
Shell executives call drilling the arctic “relatively easy”, though before they were first given approval in 2012, when their rig ran aground, caught fire and were subject to criminal charges in the wake of the botched campaign, Shell had described the venture verbatim, “relatively easy”.
The Obama administration has gone on the defense as this glaring hypocrisy makes its way through media channels, returning to the “All of the above” argument to wean us off fossil fuels which has dictated all of Obama’s more pathetic climate policies, which has our country producing record amounts of oil and gas, which still holds Keystone XL in the balance.
“Our economy still has to rely on oil and gas. As long as that’s the case, I believe we should rely more on domestic production than on foreign imports.”
The politicization of energy production is a mute point, veiled in the fear of homeland security. Experts say that in order to avert catastrophic climate change, to keep our C02 levels under 360 parts per million, we must keep 80% of the oil we already know about in the ground. Still, corporations, with the blessing of governments continue exploration campaigns at record pace. The arctic is thought to be the largest deposit in the world, dwarfing the Persian Gulf’s. The economic return to exploit it is immense and it’s buying power reaches all the way to the president’s desk.
If homeland security was the basis of reason, we would be doing everything we can to avert the crisis of climate change induced mass migration. If jobs were the reason, we’d champion solar, which offers twice as many jobs as coal. If confidence in Shell’s practices were the reason, the approving agency wouldn’t have bet on a three in four chance of disaster.
This week will be a great photo op for Obama and I’m sure many of the images of him in front of pristine wildernesses will be pasted in text books referring to his climate legacy for years to come. The Denali name change is awesome. His accomplishments in the midst of a dysfunctional congress are impressive. Unfortunately, corporate interest continues to dictate government policy, causing detriment to our planet PR stunts can’t cover up.