Obama's Climate Change Hypocrisy Is Highlighted In Alaska, The State Where He Just Approved Coastal Oil Drilling

On Monday, President Obama flew to Alaska to give comments at the GLACIER conference being held in the state, which has seen major shifts in recent years due to climate change. The White House dedicated quite a bit of hyped PR for this trip to the 49th state, where the President said that he was eager to visit and talk about the environmental perils that we are witnessing around the world due to problems associated with climate change. While Obama was eager to tout his commitment to combating human contributions to the climate crisis, I couldn't help but clench my teeth in frustration. After all, he only just gave permission to Shell to drill for oil in Alaska at the end of July. Obama's climate change hypocrisy is not only offensive and absurd, but also shows how much trouble we're really in.

If our top policy maker is willing to smile for the cameras at a climate change conference while allowing a massive oil company to drill in vital Alaskan wildlife habitats, it's hard to feel hopeful that we're going to see the top-level changes that we desperately need to mitigate the dangerous impacts of climate change.

Ever since the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, environmental groups have been especially concerned about new oil drilling endeavors, fearing that the worst could happen again. A spill would be a particularly difficult problem to contend with in the new Shell drill sites off the Alaskan coast in the Chukchi Sea. This area is isolated and not easily accessible to the Coast Guard and other oil disaster respondents.

Environmental groups have also pleaded with the Obama administration regarding marine life, which will be put at greater risk as Shell drills in the Chuckchi Sea. Audubon Alaska Policy Director Jim Adams stated on the organization's website that "We can’t clean up an oil spill in the Arctic Ocean. An oil spill at the wrong time and place could have devastating impacts on wildlife and the people that rely on that wildlife." Audubon's president and CEO, David Yarnold, added:

Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is not only risky, it’s pointless. We need to focus on other sources of energy that don’t put people, birds, other wildlife and the environment in unnecessary danger where spills under ice sheets can’t be controlled and the ability to respond to emergencies is pitifully inadequate.
President Obama cannot pander to Big Oil on one hand and claim to want to curb the impact of climate change on the other. We need to be looking forward, not back. Drilling in the Arctic Ocean is a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Tim Donaghy, a senior researcher with Greenpeace International, told The Guardian that "Instead of holding Shell accountable and moving the country towards a sustainable future, our federal regulators are catering to an ill-prepared company in a region that doesn’t tolerate cutting corners." There is a clear consensus among environmental activists that it would be truly irresponsible to allow Shell to drill in this fragile environmental area. Yet the Obama administration somehow missed these memos and decided to allow Shell to drill. According to The Guardian, former Vice President Al Gore called the decision to continue drilling in the Arctic "insane."

But the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management released a letter in May stating that during their environmental assessment of Shell's new drilling sites, they found that there would be no "significant impact" by Shell's actions. They called the potentially negative effects of the exploratory drilling "negligible," "minor," or "moderate" — all a far cry from warnings given by the environmentalist community.

While speaking at the GLACIER conference on Monday, Obama noted that "human activity is disrupting the climate, in many ways faster than we previously thought," and that "the Arctic is a leading indicator of what the planet faces." The President acknowledged that we have every scientific reason to believe that this is true. Yet despite ostensibly understanding the dire nature of the problem, and specifically speaking to the problems currently facing Arctic areas including Alaska, Obama did nothing to stand up for this region when he gave Shell permission to continue exploratory drilling.

The President's decision is not only irresponsible, but also insulting in light of his comments this week. One cannot tell the world that they stand in favor of reducing the affects of climate change while also allowing oil companies to pursue risky drilling developments. Doing so sends the message that oil profits and consumption are ultimately more important than protecting the environment. Obama can tout his climate change slogans from behind a podium all he wants, but it means absolutely nothing if the White House won't commit to policies that favor environmental protections over oil profiteers. Assuming that the President has an adequate understanding of climate change issues, as he hoped to convey in his visit to Alaska, he had no business greenlighting Shell's request to drill in the Chukchi.