Drilling for Alaskan Oil May Be Good Politics, but It Still Ends Badly for EveryoneCharles Pierce Esquire
The ocean, the storms, the droughts—none of that cares about your political prowess.
A decade or so ago, I spent a week in Shishmaref, the barrier island in Alaska that is slowly being eroded into an inlet or bay in the Chukchi Sea. There are famous pictures of buildings there that are hanging over the edge of cliffs that were not cliffs 50 years ago.
The ocean doesn't give a damn, and that village of indigenous subsistence hunters are finding it difficult to…well, subsist amid what the climate crisis is doing to them. In that, there is no difference in the fishing shacks of Shishmaref and the luxurious vacation homes along Cape Hatteras. The ocean doesn't care. From the Washington Post:
Wave after wave, the ocean had clawed away at the beach until the stilted homes finally gave way. The collapses spread debris — and anxiety — for more than a dozen miles along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. A video that captured one house surrendering to the surf in May went viral, bringing national attention to the urgency of the problem along this scenic stretch of coast[...]At least a dozen more houses in Rodanthe remain in serious danger of falling into the ocean. Faced with shrinking options, numerous homeowners are scrambling to move their homes — at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars — further from the tides that seem to creep ever closer. They have filed permits, lined up contractors and teamed up with neighbors, all in a bid to buy more time from the encroaching sea.
Good luck with that. The beach in Shishmaref is littered with the wreckage of generations of failed seawalls, like military equipment abandoned in the field by a retreating army. The pictures that accompany the Post story look exactly like the famous pictures from Shishmaref, except the imperiled houses are bigger and fancier. The ocean doesn't care.
There is one reason—and one reason alone—why all this is occurring: our continued reliance on fossil fuels. Which is why the president's latest energy tradeoff bill seems so predictably awful. From The New York Times:
The Biden administration gave formal approval Monday for a huge oil drilling project in Alaska known as Willow, despite widespread opposition because of its likely environmental and climate impacts. The president is also expected to announce sweeping restrictions on offshore oil leasing in the Arctic Ocean and across Alaska’s North Slope in an apparent effort to temper criticism over the Willow decision and, as one administration official put it, to form a “firewall” to limit future oil leases in the region. The Interior Department said it would issue new rules to block oil and gas leases on more than 13 million of the 23 million acres that form the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska.
I'm sure this is a shrewd political maneuver, and more than a few folks in the White House Office of Political Affairs have earned their pay this week. The problem is that the magnitude of the crisis makes political skill completely irrelevant. I increasingly wonder if our political system can handle what's coming. Because the ocean doesn't care.