By Corinne Coakley
On March 13, President Joe Biden approved the Willow Project, a massive oil drilling venture in Alaska, run by ConocoPhillips, a Houston-based energy company. The soon-to-be drilled area holds 600 million barrels of oil, and of course, an enormous profit. The project, originally approved by the Trump Administration in 2020, was somewhat reduced by the Biden Administration. Under Former President Donald Trump, ConocoPhillips had been cleared to build five drilling pads, while Biden reduced that number to three. However, even with that reduction, the company will be able to drill 90% of the oil in the area.
According to an article by CNN, the Biden administration estimates that the project would “generate enough oil to release 9.2 million metric tons of planet-warming carbon pollution a year - equivalent to adding 2 million gas-powered cars to roads.” While people around the globe will certainly see the effects of the Willow Project, given its predicted contribution to global warming, Alaska natives living close to the project will face direct environmental and health impacts.
During his 2020 campaign, Biden promised to end all new oil and gas drilling on public lands and waters, and evidently, he has since broken this promise.
To me, the Willow Project is yet another example of the trouble with compromise. Biden frequently talks about the importance of compromising with the GOP in order to make political progress, and while I understand this position given the danger of Senate gridlocks, there are certain issues that require more than tiptoeing and moderation. Most notably, climate change.
The most recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects that the world will surpass 1.5 degrees Celsius in warming by the early 2030s, which will mean catastrophic effects for the planet.
“Beyond that threshold, scientists have found, climate disasters will become so extreme that people will not be able to adapt. Basic components of the Earth system will be fundamentally, irrevocably altered. Heat waves, famines and infectious diseases could claim millions of additional lives by century’s end,” according to The Washington Post.
Approval of the Willow Project is certainly a way for Biden to appeal to conservative politicians and voters, especially ahead of his 2024 reelection bid announcement. The approval shows conservatives that he is a true moderate, unlike “radical leftists” who want to implement the Green New Deal, and that he is willing to prioritize profit over environmental preservation.
This is yet another misconception about green infrastructure and sustainability: the economy and the environment do not have to be in perpetual conflict. Switching to green forms of energy like solar, wind and geothermal would not mean eliminating thousands of jobs, rather retraining employees who are currently working in the fossil fuel industry. A strong economy and a healthy environment can co-exist.
When a barrage of heat waves, famines, deadly diseases and other natural disasters are only a few years away, moderation and compromise should not be overly valued. The planet and its inhabitants will pay for this moderation, and by that time, the satisfaction of conservative voters and politicians will seem deeply unimportant.
The United States needs a president who is willing to make some people unhappy in order to mitigate climate change and preserve the future. As 2024 presidential campaign announcements roll out, I hope to see a “radical leftist,” a Green New Deal supporter, someone willing to shift the country away from its reliance on fossil fuels, on the ballot.