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Obama’s mixed message on climate change and arctic drilling

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sHell No Nighttime Action _Backbone CampaignPresident Obama is traveling to Arctic Alaska this week to call for urgent action on climate change, but—and there’s always a but these days—his journey also comes in the context of his recent decision permitting offshore oil and gas drilling by Shell Oil in the same region.

As Julie Hirschfield Davis wrote in yesterday’s New York Times, While the Arctic is a fitting backdrop for the president’s call to action, it is also a place where the conflicting threads of his environmental policy collide, and where the bracing public debate over how to address the warming of the planet is particularly animated.”

The article continues: “It’s inconsistent on the one hand for President Obama to lead the world toward comprehensive action on climate change, while on the other allowing companies to pursue difficult, expensive oil in dangerous and remote places,” said Michael LeVine, Pacific senior counsel for Oceana, an environmental group.

In short, the drilling decision tarnishes to a certain degree the president’s otherwise great record on the environment, even though he has an arguably plausible, centrist and politically expedient explanation for the drilling decision.

But many are not buying it, including Al Gore. The former vice present and climate change activist is still pointing out inconvenient truths—this time criticizing the president’s controversial decision that greenlighted Royal Dutch Shell‘s oil drilling plan in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea.

In an recent interview with the UK newspaper the Guardian, Gore called the conditional approval of Shell’s exploratory drilling plan “insane” and also called for a ban on all oil and gas activity in the polar region.

Shell will begin drilling in the oil-rich Chukchi Sea very soon now that the 400-foot tall Polar Pioneer has reached the Arctic, after leaving its Seattle berth earlier this summer. Gore said in the interview with the Guardian that Obama was wrong to ever allow drilling in the Arctic.

It was the only major point of contention from Gore on Obama’s efforts to fight climate change, at home and through a global deal to be negotiated in Paris at the end of the year, but significant nonetheless.

“I think Arctic drilling is insane,” he said in Toronto, where he was passing on his techniques for talking about the climate crisis to 500 recruits from his Climate Reality Project. “I think that countries around the world would be very well advised to put restrictions on drilling for oil in the Arctic Ocean.”

As conventional oil fields decline, the Arctic is the last frontier of the oil era, containing more than 20 percent of the world’s undiscovered, recoverable oil and gas. But after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill five years ago, the risks of offshore oil drilling are clear: Gore said, “I think the Deepwater Horizon spill was warning enough. The conditions are so hostile for human activity (in the Arctic).”

For the most part Gore gives Obama high marks on climate change policies, although he still says the White House has gone too far to accommodate the oil and gas industry. “I think he is doing essentially a very good job but on the fossil fuel side I would certainly be happier if he was not allowing so much activity like the Arctic drilling permit and the large amounts of coal extracted from public lands,” Gore said.

A critical negotiating round on climate change in Paris is only months away; but it is the president and the pope who are the most visible campaigners for climate action.

Unlike the pope – who used an encyclical on climate change to deliver a scathing indictment of the prevailing economic order – Gore believes that “reformed capitalism” will eventually solve the climate campaign. “I think that some form of market capitalism is at the base of every successful economy in the world today,” he said in the interview, adding that “reforms including putting a price on pollution to discourage more pollution is definitely a part of the solution.”

Speak of the pope’s encyclical, wrdforwrd will highlight some of the more compelling passages in the coming days, so stay tuned.

Image: #sHell No Nightime Action 6/23/15 by Backbone Campaign via Flickr CC

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Written by William DiBenedetto

31 August, 2015 at 5:24 am

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