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We simply can’t afford these environmental setbacks

Construction+in+the+New+East+Boston.+Illustration+by+Eva+Lycette+%28She%2FHer%29+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff.

Construction in the New East Boston. Illustration by Eva Lycette (She/Her) / Mass Media Staff.

Did anyone really believe Biden when he assured us that climate change was a top priority for his administration?
I don’t think we need any more proof that his stance on climate change, indigenous rights and environmentalism is anything but empty rhetoric than what just happened two weeks ago. March 13, the Biden administration officially approved the Willow Project—a massive oil-drilling operation run by ConocoPhillips on Alaska’s North Slope [1].
This is an outrage. Environmentalists and many indigenous people who live in the area are strongly opposed to the project [1]. The local native populations say local environmental damage, and potential health ramifications, worry them[1]. Environmentalists point out that the project will create 9.2 million metric tons of carbon pollution every year [1] for 30 years [2].
Let’s be absolutely clear here, Biden has directly pledged to end new oil drilling on federal lands [3]…lands like those the Willow Project will be built on. He’s also pledged to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030[7]. Biden lied to us, through and through.
This isn’t even the first time he’s gone against his word. The White House opened up lands in the Gulf of Mexico last summer[4], for example. They’ve also backed existing oil projects against legal challenges brought by indigenous people whose lands are being poisoned by carbon infrastructure such as the Line 3 Pipeline [6].
I can’t understate how disastrous these projects are for the climate. We know from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that we have preciously little wiggle room for more carbon emissions if we are to hit the necessary goal of carbon neutral by no later than the early 2050’s, and that it’s already too late to stop some seriously dangerous effects of climate change [5].
Adding upward of 239 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over 30 years, as the Washington Post reports the Willow Project will emit [2], is simply unacceptable. Factor in the Gulf of Mexico oil leases, and the Biden administration has officially dropped a bomb on efforts to reach carbon neutral as quickly as possible.
Even the Biden administration itself has “pledged” to cut carbon emissions in half by 2030 [7], acknowledging the pressing need to stop using fossil fuels. How the heck do their recent actions help meet that goal?
What’s really sad is that Deb Haaland, who is the first Indigenous American secretary for the interior, was among those who okay-ed the Willow Project to go forward [7], despite native Alaskan people pushing hard against this absolute disaster. It is, of course, true that Indigenous Americans are not a monolith, and Haaland is not from Alaska [7]. So, this is proof that true representation of local cultural groups, beyond simplistic models of generalized race, are absolutely crucial.
I probably don’t have to explain to you all what this means for our future. Students especially will be the ones who begin experiencing the worst effects of our climate and ecological disaster. It’s very disturbing and anxiety inducing to see the Biden administration choose oil over climate, environment and people time and time again.
I spoke to Jared Fredrickson, a fellow student, who echoed these fears. “The approval of these new projects was a big mistake,” he said. “If we want to ensure a sustainable future, our goal needs to be a transition to clean energy, and allowing for new drilling only gets in the way of that goal.”
It’s plain as day that young people are seriously concerned about these environmental setbacks, but Jared also expressed some hope.
“There is reason for optimism […] The White House also put a near-ban on other new drilling projects in the arctic this week, which is a big step forward,” he said.
Indeed, the Biden Administration also closed off almost three million acres of ocean in the Arctic to fossil fuel extraction at nearly the same time they approved the Willow Project [8]. This is undeniably wonderful; however, it is seriously overshadowed by their other actions.
When I asked Jared if he was scared about the future, he still gave me a very encouraging response.
“I’m still hopeful,” he said. “…despite a number of setbacks, there has also been big progress toward sustainability. Scientists are making strides on nuclear fusion and other new sources of energy, and right here in Massachusetts, we’re working on big projects like South Coast Wind, which are going to have a hugely positive impact.”
Another student, Sarah Powers, also expressed hope—though at a smaller level, saying that she’s gone from predicting total destruction to seeing climate change as a recoverable crisis.
“I genuinely believe humankind has enough innovation to save us,” she told me. “I don’t doubt that climate change is currently, and will become, increasingly devastating, but humanity has found a way to live on through devastating climate changes, and I think at least some people will manage to do it in this case too.”
As for myself, I am less hopeful than Jared and Sarah. I think that these setbacks are massive, and many other countries are acting in similar or even worse ways to the Biden Administration. Large, systemic change is extremely difficult and slow. Climate change won’t bring us to extinction, but the associated ecological destruction might.
The fight isn’t over—lawsuits, protests, direct action, political change, all other forms of activism and scientific advancement can all come together to get us off of fossil fuels. Heck, one of the worst environmental tyrants, Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, has been thrown out of office by the democratic process.
Their new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has a history of science-forward and environmentalist policies, and ran on such a campaign this time around too[9]. But will he be able to keep his promises? Biden has completely gone against one of his most central promises…twice!
We desperately need to force our government to reverse course, and soon. Young people—including most students—will bear the brunt of what carbon pollution has done to our planet, and students unfortunately must be the ones to fight back. There are a million ways to get involved; organizations like Earthjustice, Citizens Climate Lobby, Extinction Rebellion and MASSPIRG are all possible options for activist work.
No matter how you choose to get involved, the important thing is getting involved. We can only win this fight together.
[1]https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/14/politics/willow-project-oil-alaska-explained-climate/index.html
[2]https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2023/03/17/willow-project-alaska-oil-drilling-explained/
[3]https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/11/19/biden-climate-change-drilling/
[4]https://www.texastribune.org/2022/07/02/biden-gulf-drilling-leasing-oil/
[5]https://www.wri.org/insights/2023-ipcc-ar6-synthesis-report-climate-change-findings#:~:text=The%20IPCC%20finds%20that%20there,sooner%20%E2%80%94%20between%202018%20and%202037.
[6]https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/24/climate/line-3-pipeline-biden.html
[7]https://www.pbs.org/newshour/politics/interior-secretary-haaland-criticized-over-difficult-choice-on-willow-project
[8]https://www.reuters.com/world/us/biden-plans-limits-oil-drilling-alaska-arctic-circle-ap-2023-03-12/
[9]https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-03071-2

About the Contributor
James Cerone, Opinions Editor