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Obama’s Approval of Arctic Drilling ‘Undermines His Climate Message’

US president’s call for action on climate change is at odds with letting Shell drill for oil in the Arctic, says Bill McKibben

By James Randerson

Barack Obama has fatally undermined the message of his visit to the Arctic to highlight the dangers of climate change because his administration allowed Shell to drill there, a leading US environmentalist has said.

Bill McKibben, winner of the Right Livelihood prize in 2014, sometimes referred to as an alternative Nobel, and founder of 350.org, said that Obama’s actions were a “bad contradiction”.

polar bear standing amid arctic icePhoto by Eric Regehr/USFWSA male polar bear stands alert on the Arctic coast near Kaktovik, Alaska. On Saturday, Obama acknowledged criticism of the Shell decision, saying he shared concerns about Arctic drilling.

“It is very difficult for Barrack Obama or anybody else to say, ‘look we take this completely seriously, this is the greatest problem the world’s ever faced but it’s OK to go ahead and start drilling a whole new oil field up in the Arctic.’ Those two things are at odds,” McKibben told a conference on fossil fuel divestment in Paris on Tuesday.

Obama’s visit is designed to draw attention to the impact of climate change and highlight the fact that they are already happening in the Arctic. In a speech on Monday he said that world governments still had the power to get a grip on the problem at the UN climate talks in Paris in December.

“This year in Paris has to be the year that the world finally reaches an agreement to protect the one planet that we’ve got while we still can,” Obama said. “This is within our power. This is a solvable problem – if we start now.”

In his weekly address on Saturday, Obama acknowledged criticism of the Shell decision, saying he shared concerns about Arctic drilling. He said that his administration had ensured that the operations would be carried out “under the highest safety standards possible”.

“We don’t rubber-stamp permits. We made it clear that Shell has to meet our high standards in how they conduct their operations – and it’s a testament to how rigorous we’ve applied those standards that Shell has delayed and limited its exploration off Alaska while trying to meet them,” he said.

But McKibben said that “no one can really listen to what he’s saying” because he had allowed Shell to go ahead.

“Those two things are at odds, especially because there was an important paper in [the journal] Nature which specifically identified the Arctic as one of the few places that absolutely had to be off limits if we are to have any hope of meeting our climate targets,” said McKibben.

He tempered the broadside on the president by saying that Obama had made good moves on mitigating climate change.

But he said the contradiction demonstrated the power of the fossil fuel industry. “The reason that Obama said ‘go ahead’ is because everybody’s deathly scared when the richest industry on the planet takes you on.”

At the international divestment conference, the European Green party, the Greens/European Free Alliance and 350.org launched the Divest for Paris challenge to encourage organizations to join the rapidly growing fossil fuel divestment movement. Over 220 organizations including universities, insurance companies, religious groups and foundations have pledged to move their investments out of fossil fuel companies.

“The European parliament has formed a cross-party group working on the carbon bubble and divestment while the European Central Bank is looking into the risks of a carbon bubble.

“Unfortunately, however, the European commission seems to be dragging its feet. This divestment conference is therefore also a call to them: don’t be behind the curve. There is no future for fossil fuels – or there is no future,” says Reinhard Bütikofer, member of parliament and co-chair of the European Green party.

Yannick Jadot, MEP for the Greens said: “Citizens, employees, municipalities, reasonable politicians, all of society can take action to ensure our money doesn’t destroy the climate. This is a real revolution in the fight against climate change, where finance and ecology finally meet.”

<em>The Guardian’s</em> Keep it in the Ground campaign is highlighting the divestment movement and has called on the world’s two largest medical charities, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Wellcome Trust, to move their investments from fossil fuels.

 

The Guardian
The Guardian UK, one of Britain's top daily newspapers, provides coverage of international environmental issues. Earth Island Journal is a member of the Guardian's Environment News Network.

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