A Climate Change About Face?

This past week has lead to three new announcements/publications that really should be evaluated in line with one another because the weight of what is being presented requires the larger context.

Last week the Obama Administration announced that it would open Atlantic offshore waters to oil and gas exploration. This has been a hotly contested issue for many years for a number of reasons. Non-exhaustively:

  1. Air guns used to look for oil and gas are very, very loud.
  2. The Atlantic is host to a booming fishing industry that would likely be disrupted.
  3. It is also host to a number of marine mammals, the most well know is likely the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale which is protected.
  4. No one knows how much oil and gas is out there and the studies that show reserves are very old and thus possibly inaccurate (40 years old).
  5. Whether the risk to the environment is justifiable for extraction of an unknown reserve of fuel that will exacerbate CO2 in the atmosphere when we should be looking for alternatives to reduce the impacts of climate change (not increase it).

Mostly, the issue lies with the known taking (harassing/killing) of marine mammals and turtles due to sound exposure for a fuel that is responsible for climate change. For those wondering how loud an air gun is “The cannons emit sound waves louder than a jet engine every ten seconds for weeks at a time.”

This is the statement from BOEM, “The bureau’s decision reflects a carefully analyzed and balanced approach that will allow us to increase our understanding of potential offshore resources while protecting the human, marine, and coastal environments,” acting BOEM Director Walter Cruickshank

Which leads us to publication #2, an article, “US considers arctic Alaska Leases for 2017” that links to the full statement including this:

There is significant oil and gas potential in the Beaufort Sea, but this part of the Arctic Ocean is also a unique and sensitive environment that is critically important to the subsistence needs of Alaska Native communities on the North Slope,” said BOEM Acting Director Walter Cruickshank. “Any consideration of future leasing must be done in a way that identifies not only the areas that have resource potential, but also those areas that must be protected for wildlife and traditional uses.

Which sounds a lot like statement #1. Now – here is the tricky part of the argument. Currently, there is not a whole lot going on in the Arctic. Yes, it is an environment that needs to be protected (along with the rights of the Native communities) but, there are no current commercial fishing interests in the US High Arctic, there are no major shipping lanes, and there is no infrastructure to support major development because there is no development.  All of these things exist in the Atlantic. Along with coastlines of beaches, homes, and people – which are now subject to oil and gas development and disruption and the next deep water horizon (not to mention hurting whales).

The take away: if the administration will open the Atlantic… they wont bat an eye for the Arctic.

Which leads to publication #3: “The Cost of Delaying Action to Stem Climate Change” released this morning by the White House. The White House home page for the report describes the effort thus:

“With our country already experiencing the effects of climate change, the President has taken action to cut carbon pollution by moving to cleaner sources of energy and improving the energy efficiency of our cars, trucks and buildings. But further steps are urgently needed to ensure that we leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged.

The White House today released a new report from the Council of Economic Advisers that examines the economic consequences of delaying action to stem climate change. The report finds that delaying policy actions by a decade increases total mitigation costs by approximately 40 percent, and failing to take any action would risk substantial economic damage. These findings emphasize the need for policy action today.”

I, and I am sure others, find it difficult to reconcile the actions of this week in light of the contradictory language and stances on issues so intimately connected. If we are looking for cleaner, alternative energy – why are we exploring the Atlantic and the Arctic? Which causes me to ask whether we are in a process of an “about face” on climate – and more importantly whether empty words and lots of bad action will be the new norm (or, more accurately, a continuation of the old norm). Lip service wont save the whales and it certainly wont stop the warming.